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2024 Dead Zone Running Backs: Fantasy Football Draft Outlook

The traditional running back dead zone was viewed as rounds 3-6, which has consistently been an area of drafts where running backs were outperformed by wide receivers. The success of WR-heavy starts to drafts in major tournaments has pushed more wide receivers to the top of the board and more running backs further down, to the point where rounds 7-10 can be particularly fruitful for running back selections.

Part of the reason for the rise of receivers and the fall of the running backs is the wider awareness of the concept of the running back dead zone and for the second straight year Zero RB or Hero RB teams winning millions of dollars, using strategies that involved fading the dead zone running backs.

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Dead Zone Running Backs (Fantasy Football)

In 2022, 13 running backs had an average draft position (ADP) inside the top two rounds, along with nine wide receivers. Then in 2023, there were 15 wide receivers with a top-24 ADP but only seven running backs. There are currently 16 wide receivers and eight running backs in the top two rounds of Underdog ADP.

Name Team ADP ECR
Derrick Henry BAL 31.5 35.9
Josh Jacobs GB 37.1 30.8
Travis Etienne Jr. JAC 38.2 30.4
Isiah Pacheco KC 46.1 39.7
James Cook BUF 52.4 42.1
Rachaad White TB 54 39.2
Joe Mixon HOU 56.5 45.7
Kenneth Walker III SEA 62.9 54.6
Alvin Kamara NO 66 60.0
Aaron Jones MIN 72.2 67.6
David Montgomery DET 74 66.3
Rhamondre Stevenson NE 77.7 72.6

In 2022, there were 15 running backs in the dead zone, but that number has fallen to 12 in 2024, with more backs going later than ever before. As we can see in the table below, there were some moderate successes in this range but also some massive failures.

Name ADP Positional ADP Half-PPR PPG Half-PPR Rank Half-PPR PPG Rank Difference in PPG vs. ADP
Jahmyr Gibbs 29 RB9 14.8 9 7 2
Rhamondre Stevenson 33.9 RB10 10.6 33 29 -19
Travis Etienne Jr. 36.8 RB11 15.1 3 5 6
Joe Mixon 37.4 RB12 13.6 7 13 -1
Breece Hall 44.2 RB13 14.0 6 10 3
Najee Harris 44.4 RB14 10.0 26 33 -19
Aaron Jones 49.2 RB15 10.3 40 31 -16
Kenneth Walker III 49.9 RB16 12.6 20 18 2
Dameon Pierce 54.7 RB17 5.9 50 54 -37
Jonathan Taylor 57.7 RB18 13.4 35 14 4
Alexander Mattison 58.7 RB19 7.7 36 44 25
JK Dobbins 62.3 RB20 10.7 103 28 -8
James Cook 65.2 RB21 12.8 10 17 4
Miles Sanders 70.9 RB22 4.8 53 61 -39
Javonte Williams 73.1 RB23 9.2 31 37 -14

If we accept that the dead zone is a risky area of drafts that may reward us but also may let us down quite badly, we can build around this for running backs we deem worthy of drafting there.

2024 Dead Zone Running Backs Fantasy Football Outlook

Derrick Henry (RB – BAL)

Derrick Henry has faced 120 more 8-man boxes than the next nearest running back over the last three years. While that could work against Tennessee, two-time MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson ranked first in EPA against loaded boxes last year and will keep defenses more honest. Henry might be on the wrong side of 30 for a running back but he still hasn’t rushed for fewer than 4.2 yards per carry across any season of his career. He has also scored double-digit touchdowns in six straight years. If Henry can stay healthy it’s hard to imagine a world where he doesn’t come close to paying off his cost.

Josh Jacobs (RB – GB)

Of all the dead zone running backs, Josh Jacobs could be viewed as the most mispriced. With competition only coming from possible camp-cut candidate A.J. Dillon and third-round rookie MarShawn Lloyd, Jacobs may continue to average over 20 touches per game as he did in 2023. Jacobs is an inefficient player with holes in his game, but sheer volume alone on an exciting offense could elevate him from the players around him in ADP.

Travis Etienne Jr. (RB – JAX)

The half-season warrior Travis Etienne has yet to put things together for an entire season. In 2022, Etienne averaged 14.0 points per game 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. Doug Pederson has talked about the importance of Tank Bigsby seizing a bigger role, and while it’s possible that allows Etienne to be more consistent, it might also reduce his ceiling somewhat.

Isiah Pacheco (RB – KC)

The Chiefs saw no reason to add to their running back room this offseason, with free agent Clyde Edwards-Helaire re-signed to a minimal deal and 32-year-old Jerick McKinnon still unsigned. Isiah Pacheco isn’t a perfect player, but he’s averaged over 4.6 yards per carry in both of his seasons and caught 44 receptions in 2024 — that’s a valuable amount for fantasy. Pacheco’s ceiling might be capped, but don’t be surprised if he climbs too close to the second round by September.

James Cook (RB – BUF)

Buffalo never seemed ready to turn the RB1 duties solely over to James Cook, using Latavius Murray around the goal line while keeping Cook fresh to create explosive plays in the open field. The biggest positives for Cook are that the receiving core has taken a backward step and will be less effective this year, meaning the running game might be required to have a bigger role. Also, Josh Allen is unlikely to rush for 15 touchdowns again, potentially freeing up more for Cook.

Rachaad White (RB – TB)

Outside of adding Bucky Irving, the Bucs left the RB position alone this offseason, giving Rachaad White another opportunity to be a solid fantasy asset after finishing as the RB9 in 2023. White had 60 receptions, the fourth-most among running backs last season. While he’s an inefficient runner, we can live with that if he continues to get the bulk of the work.

Joe Mixon (RB – HOU)

The Texans gave Devin Singletary 19.4 touches per game from Week 10 onwards last year but sought to upgrade from him to Joe Mixon when the option became available. Mixon has scored a combined 37 touchdowns in the last three seasons, making up for some of his inefficiency on the ground. As the sole option in Houston, that kind of return can continue in an ascending offense.

Kenneth Walker III (RB – SEA)

The Seahawks’ offense is quite a blank page for 2024 with a new offensive coordinator for the third time in three years, hiring Ryan Grubb away from the college game where he led Washington to the National Championship game. How that offense involves the running game will remain to be seen, but head coach Mike Macdonald has talked about wanting to make establishing the run a core philosophy. Coming from Baltimore it would make sense for him to believe in that. Kenneth Walker’s ceiling will likely be capped by Zach Charbonnet, but we know Walker can be an explosive player, so he’s worth mixing into your portfolio.

Alvin Kamara (RB – NO)

It felt like the window for Alvin Kamara to be fantasy-relevant was closing with him suspended for the first three games of 2023, potentially opening the door for rookie Kendre Miller and veteran Jamaal Williams, but neither earned a role within the offense and Kamara crushed it when he returned. Kamara was the RB6 in half-PPR and led the position with 75 catches. Kamara may continue to lead the trio, but word around New Orleans is they expect Miller to make a big leap this year, which could be trouble for Kamara.

Aaron Jones (RB – MIN)

The Packers moved on from Aaron Jones after looking to get younger at the position. It led to Jones landing with divisional rivals Minnesota very quickly. The Vikings need better running back play after a miserable year from Alexander Mattison. Jones should be able to provide that. The biggest question is whether he can hold up after multiple hamstring issues caused him to only play 10 games in 2023. At age 29, the cliff edge could arrive very quickly.

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