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How to Value Rookies in Fantasy Football: Running Backs (2024)

How to Value Rookies in Fantasy Football: Running Backs (2024)

Before the 2024 NFL Draft kicked off in the Motor City, I released an article titled How to Value Rookies Pre-Draft (2024 Fantasy Football) to provide some insight into the approach for rookies in dynasty and pre-draft best ball fantasy football formats.

The first-year talent that has entered the league the past few seasons warrants excitement because guys are hitting the ground running for fantasy football. The list is impressive: C.J. Stroud, Zay Flowers, Sam LaPorta, Puka Nacua, Bijan Robinson, Jahmyr Gibbs, Breece Hall, Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Drake London, Christian Watson, Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Jonathan Taylor, Kyle Pitts, Jaylen Waddle, Najee Harris, Javonte Williams and Amon-Ra St. Brown.

Let’s look at fantasy football rookie running backs and how you should value them.

2024 Dynasty Fantasy Football Guide

How to Value Fantasy Football Rookie Running Backs

Draft capital is a crucial factor to consider when evaluating the potential of rookie players in fantasy football. With every new prospect entering the league, there is a level of uncertainty that needs to be considered when determining their fantasy value.

Understanding how the NFL views a player based on their draft position can provide valuable insight into their potential success at the professional level.

By leveraging this information and historical data on rookie performance, you can create a winning strategy for the 2024 rookie class. This will give you an edge in dynasty rookie drafts, season-long leagues, and best ball drafts by identifying undervalued players and maximizing their potential in your lineup.

Running Backs

Draft capital is a crucial factor to consider when evaluating running backs in fantasy football. There is a clear and significant correlation between a running back’s draft position and their production in fantasy football. This connection is not surprising since draft capital is a better indicator of opportunity rather than just raw talent or skill alone, and the running back position is highly reliant on volume in fantasy football. By factoring in draft capital when evaluating running backs, you can make more informed decisions when it comes to drafting, trading, or starting them on your fantasy team, ultimately leading to better outcomes and success in your league.

Most NFL teams are wising up and waiting to draft a running back until the middle of Day 2 and then running them into the ground through the extent of their rookie contract. Unless of course you’re Jerry Jones and you opt to go “all-in” with post-NFL Draft winner Ezekiel Elliot rather than drafting an RB with any of your draft selections.

Rookie Running Backs Since 2013

How to Value Rookies Pre-Draft (2024 Fantasy Football) | FantasyPros
2013-2023
Drafted # Carries (Avg) Receptions (Avg) Touches (Avg) FF Finish RB1% RB2% RB3% RB4%
1st Round 14 200 40 239 17 57% 74% 83% 91%
2nd Round 27 145 26 171 37 11% 39% 50% 81%
3rd Round 34 99 21 120 58 12% 18% 31% 52%
4th Round 44 73 19 93 70 0% 0% 22% 30%
5th Round 34 51 11 62 84 3% 6% 9% 14%
6th Round+ 56 31 7 38 98 0% 3% 4% 9%

On average, first-round rookie running backs see 239 touches per season-a number that ranked 22nd at the position last season and 20th the year before (2022).

However, the benchmark around 20 is slightly inflated due to the extra game, so I’d estimate the average is closer to the top 15 based on the previous 16-game season sample size (239 touches ranked 14th in 2021).

Najee Harris – 381 touches in 2021, tops in the NFL – is the best-case scenario for a first-round rookie volume-wise but still showcases the impact a first-year runner can make despite zero professional experience.

In 2023, we had two RBs selected in the first round – they delivered despite lofty expectations. Both finished as top-12 fantasy RBs, averaging the exact touch output we should have expected.

But with no round-one RBs drafted in the 2024 RB draft class, this year’s class looks closer to what we saw in 2022. We had three RBs finish with over 225 touches between Kenneth Walker, Dameon Pierce and Tyler Allgeier. The highest-drafted RB that season (Breece Hall) was on pace for 242 touches before his injury.

Jonathon Brooks (CAR)

Only one RB was selected in the second round of this year’s draft. The Carolina Panthers traded up to the 46th overall pick to select Texas RB Jonathon Brooks. Coming off the torn ACL injury, Brooks’s availability for training camp has been reported to be positive.

Still, the Panthers can ride out veterans Chuba Hubbard and Miles Sanders. Then, they could unleash Brooks as the season progresses. The former Longhorn profiles much more like a strong finisher than a strong starter for just the 2024 season. This needs to be considered in general roster construction, specifically in formats (such as Underdog’s Best Ball Mania V) that heavily favor the prize pools from Weeks 14 and onward.

Be wary that the list of rookie RBs entering the NFL that were immediately productive coming off season-ending injuries is thin. Todd Gurley is the lone success (he missed the first two games of his NFL career), followed by a long list of major RB disappointments.

Given Brooks’ top-50 draft capital, it’s still impossible not to label Brooks an NFL draft winner and bump up his value despite coming off a torn ACL. Even if it takes some time, I can only imagine Brooks’ dynasty value increasing as we inch closer to 2025. Imagine how high he would have been drafted if he wasn’t coming off a torn ACL.

Brooks’ best ball ADP opened as the RB31 on Underdog Best Ball. Given the average finish of a second-rounder (RB37), I like taking the shot on Brooks’ league-winning upside in the back half of the season. And I love the idea of pairing him with Chuba Hubbard (RB43) on the same roster in case he starts slow. I’d imagine under a brand new coaching staff with all new personnel, the Panthers offense will start sluggish.

Round 3 Rookie RBs

In Round 3 of the 2024 NFL Draft, three RBs were selected. Trey Benson went 66th overall to the Arizona Cardinals, Blake Corum went 83rd overall to the Los Angeles Rams and MarShawn Lloyd went 88th to the Green Bay Packers.

This was in line with the pre-draft consensus rankings/projections. As I previously wrote in the pre-draft version, this next tier is a cluster of third-round RBs, where draft capital won’t be as much of a differentiating factor compared to the landing spot.

Although it’s worth noting that Benson went well ahead of all the third-round RBs drafted last season, while Corum/Lloyd had nearly identical draft capital to De’Von Achane/Tank Bigsby.

Considering the average rookie finish for a third-round RB is RB58, the market is currently overvaluing the three rookies based strictly on third-round draft capital. But it’s clear that the market is just looking at the upside scenarios with these Round 3 RBs, given that Round 2 vs Round 3 RB1 ceiling hit rates are nearly identical. The floors are just much shakier.

And it’s clear what the paths to the upside are for some of these Round 3 backs.

Trey Benson (ARI)

For starters, Benson was drafted with one of the first picks in Round 3, making him closer to a Round 2 pick than truly Round 3. I love the spot for him on an ascending Cardinals offense with James Conner entering the last year of his contract. I fully expect Conner to still be the “bell cow” in 2024 if he is able to maintain his health. Obviously, that’s not a given. But in the meantime, Benson has the size/speed profile to flash his explosiveness while working in tandem with Conner. The former Florida State RB posted a 51% missed tackle rate in 2023. If/when Conner goes down, it will be the Benson show in the desert. And he will be the headliner in 2025.

Blake Corum (LAR)

Corum would be super productive in the Kyren Williams role for Sean McVay as a do-it-all RB. I don’t think the Corum selection denounces Williams as the starting RB1 in LA, but it gives McVay another option in case Williams suffers another injury. The third-year RB has gotten hurt both years he has played in the NFL. Last year, the Rams went right back to Kyren, with nobody else worth much on the depth chart.

Corum changes that equation substantially. Because if he hits (I’d bet he does) with his opportunities in the wake of another Williams injury, McVay might not be so loyal/open to turning the backfield back to Williams.

Given the Corum addition, I’d strongly fade Williams as a top 2024 redraft pick while hyper-targeting the former Wolverine as a premier late-round RB target. Any volume that Corum takes on in the Rams’ backfield will hurt Williams’ fantasy value.

MarShawn Lloyd (GB)

As for Lloyd…let’s be real here regarding the landing spot for the Packers. I’ve already seen some Lloyd stans (hello, DBro) come out and call out Josh Jacobs‘ contract as an “essential” one-year deal and quote head coach Matt LeFleur’s tendency to use a running back by committee.

But if Jacobs is good/effective in 2024, they probably won’t cut him. And even if they did, that still doesn’t guarantee anything for Lloyd for 2025 and beyond—given LeFleur’s tendency to use a running back by committee. I’ve heard the 2025 RB class is very good. The argument for Lloyd in an RBBC is somewhat of a double-edged sword, isn’t it?

And this Packers coaching staff has an unhealthy infatuation with A.J. Dillon. I’d like to assume Lloyd can easily supplant Dillon as the No. 2 RB, but he never totally dominated a college backfield. His yards per play (2.4) is very poor compared to the rest of the RB class. Lloyd never surpassed 150 touches in any season, with only three games of 20+ touches. He also dealt with injuries consistently, which contributed to smaller workloads. Eight fumbles aren’t great for job security, either.

I feel the Round 3/Day 2 draft capital is buoying Lloyd’s fantasy value to some extent, but I’m not sure that it’s warranted.

Day 2 RB Analysis

Most analysts – myself included – and draft pundits tend to cluster “Day 2 running backs” together because the draft is set up in that fashion, but the facts advocate we should view them separately. The major overall drop-off in running back production from Round 2 to Round 3 cannot be ignored.

The volume and fantasy finish margin for running backs from Round 2 to Round 3 are more significant than for running backs from Round 3 to Round 4.

Tyrion Davis-Price is the example from two seasons ago of a Round 3 running back who completely failed to fire. Last year, Kendre Miller, Tank Bigsby and Roschon Johnson did little to boost their fantasy values. Miller and RJ were more injury-related while Bigsby flamed out.

Of the 34 running backs drafted in the third round over the last 11 years, just five finished in the top 24 in their rookie season, while 23 finished outside of the top 36.

Hence, I have Brooks and Benson in their own tier at the top. If Brooks was 100% healthy, he’d probably be in his own tier entirely. Benson was picked 66th overall, which is as close to a second-round pick as you can get. Keep in mind that the Cardinals had four third-round picks to burn and elected to use the first one on Benson.

Then there’s a drop-off in tiers to the other Round 3 backs with Corum and his high-ceiling potential.

Then there’s another drop-off to Lloyd, who I think should be clustered closer with the crop of seven RBs that were drafted in Round 4.

2024 Running Backs Drafted Rounds 3-4

Round No. Selection Team Player Pre-Draft ADP Best Ball ADP (4/30/2024) College
3 66 ARI Trey Benson RB34 RB28 Florid State
3 83 LAR Blake Corum RB39 RB39 Michigan
3 88 GB MarShawn Lloyd RB47 RB45 USC
4 120 MIA Jaylen Wright RB43 RB41 Tennessee
4 125 TBB Bucky Irving RB54 RB56 Oregon
4 127 PHI Will Shipley RB62 RB63 Clemson
4 128 BUF Ray Davis RB57 RB53 Kentucky
4 129 SF Isaac Guerendo N/A RB62 Louisville
4 132 DET Sione Vaki N/A RB102 Utah
4 134 NYJ Braelon Allen RB48 RB54 Wisconsin

Historically speaking, my research has found there’s not much of a difference between Round 3 and Round 4 running backs in first-year production. Last year, this wasn’t the case, with virtually no hits after Round 3 aside from Chase Brown (Round 5), although Keaton Mitchell/Jaleel McLaughlin made noise as UDFAs.

But I want to note that we only had the Bears rookie RB in the Round 4 draft pool. And had he stayed healthy, I think we could have seen him take on a larger role in Chicago’s offense.

From a post-draft production standpoint, Round 4 running backs tend to look much more like Round 3 running backs than their Round 5-plus counterparts.

Hence, I feel Lloyd should be compared closer to an RB selected from picks 101-135. And because of the sheer size of the group, we might have more late-round rookie hits from this Day 3 crop (specifically Round 4) than last year.

Jaylen Wright (MIA)

Jaylen Wright is in a great position to succeed in Miami, even as a Round 4 pick. He’s a great scheme fit for what head coach Mike McDaniel covets: speed. He is also behind an aging Raheem Mostert and undersized De’Von Achane, both of whom suffered injuries last season. And although I initially downgraded Achane after the Dolphins traded up for Wright, I’ve backed off that stance. I recognize the upside Wright has should he see touches on offense. But for him to “dethrone” Mostert/Achane without an injury is far-fetched.

Similar to Lloyd, Wright could never fully take over a backfield at the college level. And if the Wright selection is indicative of anything, it’s more of a knock on Mostert/Jeff Wilson Jr. as the older veteran RBs.

Bucky Irving (TB)

The Buccaneers drafted an undersized, unathletic RB on Day 3 in Bucky Irving. Possibly, he eats into Rachaad White‘s target share. Irving is quicker than fast with a Devin Singletary comparison. Considering the Buccaneers could have drafted a big back to vulture goal-line TDs instead, I’d be satisfied with Irving as the RB2 behind White.

However, this needs to be addressed. Bucs Assistant GM John Spytek told reporters new Buccaneers OC Liam Coen was part of the decision to draft Irving.

This is noteworthy as Coen did not take his former RB – Ray Davis – in Round 4 (who went a few picks later to Buffalo), whom he coached at Kentucky in 2023. Instead, they stuck to their board and selected Irving. Perhaps not great for White’s three-down workload he benefitted from in 2023. Jason Licht and Todd Bowles have expressed their hope to lessen the load for White in 2024. Irving seems like part of this plan.

Ray Davis (BUF)

Meanwhile, Davis met with the Bills RB coach Kelly Skipper throughout the pre-draft process and likely influenced how the Bills approached their RB room in the draft.

An injury could vault Davis/Irving into a larger role where they would likely be productive. But it seems both will act more as hindrances to the RB1s on their respective depth charts. All things considered, I believe Irving has a better chance to make an instant impact, given his receiving repertoire.

We also saw the new Bills OC lean on James Cook heavily down the stretch at the end of last season. Coen handpicked Irving for a reason and is stepping in with his offense, which may differ from what the Buccaneer deployed last season.

Isaac Guerendo (SF)

San Francisco running back Isaac Guerendo is in a similar situation to Wright, where we could easily see him smash if presented with an opportunity for touches in the SF 49ers offense. Obviously, he’s a long way behind Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell, so he’s a total zero unless an injury happens. But the 49ers were one of the healthiest offenses in the NFL last season. They might not be so fortunate for two years running.

And I do find it interesting that these two Shanahan offenses (Miami/SF) both invested in size/speed RBs, whereas in the past it’s usually just speed that was required as a pre-requisite. These coaching staff are embracing the “bigger” backs with players at 210-plus pounds.

Round 4 Rookie RB Analysis

But as exciting as it is to talk Round 4 rookie RBs, in most cases, Rounds 4-7 are where things tend to become a crapshoot. The average finish for a Round 4 RB in Year 1 is RB70. All the RBs I’ve specifically named are going well ahead of that benchmark in early best-ball drafts.

In this RB50-RB70 range, you are much better off taking more “concrete” handcuffs/established RBs such as Allgeier, Antonio Gibson, Roschon Johnson, Jaleel McLaughlin, Alexander Mattison or Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

Things don’t necessarily improve for the rookie RBs in the aggregate entering Round 5-plus, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. As I have outlined, there is a semblance to viewing the running backs selected in the first round of Day 3 in a separate tier from rounds five or later.

There’s usually a higher hit rate in the fourth round than in rounds 5-7. Players like Tony Pollard, Dameon Pierce, Rhamondre Stevenson, Chuba Hubbard, Roschon Johnson and Michael Carter most recently enjoyed fantasy-relevant weeks as rookies. And for the most part, their values have stayed relatively steady in the dynasty context.

But I want to be clear that’s mostly from a general hit rate and floor standpoint. The “ceiling-only” argument leans more toward the fifth-round or later guys. This makes sense, as the later you get drafted, the less of a leash an RB has at the next level. So when it comes to late-round picks in both Best Ball and dynasty formats, the Round 5-plus guys are the ultimate dart throws.

And that dovetails perfectly into my next take.

Tyrone Tracy Jr (NYG)

Introducing Tyrone Tracy Jr. as my rookie RB5. A quintessential example of a high-upside/no-floor Round 5 running back.

Among the 2024 rookie class, not many of the Day 3 selections landed in situations with clear paths to touches. RBs like Ray Davis, Bucky Irving, Isaac Guerendo, Audric Estime and Will Shipley don’t look like anything more than glorified handcuffs.

But the lone exception, in my estimation, is the former Purdue Boilermaker, who was selected by the Giants.

Devin Singletary is by far the weakest veteran RB any of these Day 3 RBs are faced against when it comes to his “mid” skill set. Singletary does everything right but doesn’t “wow” coaches on the field. Tracy could be an upside play in the Giants’ backfield should Singletary flounder with the starting gig.

Keep in mind that in Tracy’s first year playing RB after switching from WR, he led his draft class in yards after contact per attempt. He could be the Giants RB1, or he could be completely nothing given his inexperience at the position.

Giants HC Brian Daboll on Tracy…

“He’s an athlete who has played receiver and then played running back and has some good production,” said Daboll. “We’ll throw him in the mix. Whether that’s in the kickoff return game or whether that’s at running back or the receiving part of it, we’ve got to do a good job of getting him in here and seeing where he’s at and then trying to fit him into the things that he can do well.” – Per Giants Wire.

But again, it’s still a massive dart throw.

Rounds 5-7 Rookie RB Analysis

In the past five seasons, 55 running backs have been selected in rounds 5-7. Tyler Allgeier, Isiah Pacheco and Chase Brown have been the best of the bunch.

Over the same period, the big-hitting rookie running backs who significantly contributed to fantasy rosters were Phillip Lindsay and James Robinson, who both went undrafted. We’ve seen this more recently as well, with RBs like Jaylen Warren, Jaleel McLaughlin and Keaton Mitchell.

However, it’s still a massive uphill battle to rely on a Day 3 to be productive from the get-go.

From 2013 to 2021, just two Day 3 running backs finished as top-24 running backs (Jordan Howard in 2016, Zac Stacy in 2013). Pierce (RB27) and Allgeier (RB28) came extremely close to top-24 status in 2022. A few guys also came seriously close in 2021 – Elijah Mitchell (RB25), Michael Carter (RB29) and Chuba Hubbard (RB33) – but ultimately fell short of cresting fantasy RB2 status. Nobody was even close last season.

We should not value any rookie running back drafted on Day 3 with a top-24 price tag. And ADP heavily favors the Rounds 3-4 crops of RBs over 5-7.

Part of this stems from these later-round backs having to earn touches and work their way up a depth chart. After all, the draft capital constitutes that teams don’t have to play them.

Because they can only gain opportunity by showing out their talent in practices or preseason, I would highly recommend a lean towards the talent/athleticism of Day 3 running backs. For this 2024 class, size, in particular, stands out with some of the larger running backs.

RBs such as Braelon Allen (235 lbs), Kendall Milton (225 lbs), Isaac Guerendo (221 pounds), Audric Estime (221 pounds) and MarShawn Lloyd (220 pounds) offer size that not all RBs can bring.

Even other RBs I’ve shown love for Brooks (216 pounds), Benson (216 pounds), Davis (211 pounds), Wright (210 pounds) and Tracy (209 pounds) have solid size profiles.

2024 Running Backs Drafted Rounds 5-7 (Plus notable UDFAs)

Round No. Selection Team Player Best Ball ADP (4/30/2024) College
5 147 DEN Audric Estime RB61 Notre Dame
5 165 BAL Rasheen Ali RB79 Marshall
5 166 NYG Tyrone Tracy Jr. RB65 Purdue
5 167 JAC Keilan Robinson RB80 Texas
5 173 NYJ Isaiah Davis RB82 South Dakota State
6 181 LAC Kimani Vidal RB60 Troy
6 186 ATL Jase McClellan N/A Alabama
6 205 HOU Jawhar Jordan RB90 Louisville
6 208 LV Dylan Laube RB68 New Hampshire
UDFA BUF Frank Gore Jr. RB77 Southern Miss
UDFA DEN Blake Watson RB96 Memphis
UDFA KC Emani Bailey N/A TCU
UDFA PHI Kendall Milton N/A Georgia
UDFA PIT Dajun Edwards N/A Georgia
UDFA SF Cody Schrader RB80 Missouri

If they land on a team that boasts a weak running back depth chart, that needs to be added to the equation. But if all else is equal, go with the best player you think can deliver when called upon.

For me, that includes Tracy, Estime (Javonte Williams is entering the last year of his deal), and Kimani Vidal.

Kimani Vidal (LAC)

Vidal is on a wide-open RB depth chart against two former Ravens RBs: Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins. You don’t need to squint too hard to see him cracking the starting lineup or at least earning some type of 1A-1B role in an offense that wants to establish the run ad nauseam.

Vidal finished second in the FBS in forced missed tackles (94) in 2023. The 5-foot-8 and 213-pound rusher is built with a stout, compact frame, which aided him in his efforts to 1,661 rushing yards (second in the FBS) in 2023. That awarded him a 31% dominator rating in his final season at Troy (fifth-highest in 2023) after a 24% dominator rating in 2022. Concerns are his bottom-10 yards per play at 2.34 and the level of competition faced at Troy. Reasons why I can’t move him too high up the rankings.

Still, it’s impossible to ignore LAC as one of the better spots for him to produce in Year 1, given that Edwards nor Dobbins have been long-time starters. Both have also struggled to stay healthy.

Kendall Milton (PHI)

I spoke poetically about Kendall Milton as one of my top sleeper RBs in this class but I knew he was facing an uphill battle to be drafted. However, I believe he struck gold – in more ways than one – as he signed one of the richest UDFA contracts with the Philadelphia Eagles. Trust in Howie Roseman that he specifically targeted the former Georgia running back. Milton stands out on the Eagles roster as their largest running back at 6-foot-1 1/2 and 225 pounds

So, although the Eagles also drafted Will Shipley in the fourth round, I wouldn’t put it past Milton to ascend to No. 2 RB status behind free-agent acquisition Saquon Barkley, who has dealt with plenty of injury issues in the NFL.

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