2024 Underdog Fantasy Must-Draft RBs


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2024 Underdog Fantasy Must-Draft RBs

Scott Barrett and Ryan Heath join forces to bring you the best fantasy football value picks and essential running backs to draft for Underdog Fantasy's Best Ball Mania 5.

Must Draft

Breece Hall, RB, New York Jets

ADP: RB3, Round 1

Hall finished as fantasy football’s RB2 (PPR) or RB3 (half-PPR) last year, in spite of the fact that:

1) He was playing with the worst QB in football. (Now replaced by Aaron Rodgers, who won MVP in each of his last two healthy seasons.) And also the 4th-worst run-blocking offensive line in football (measured by adjusted yards before contact per attempt), which has added three new starters via free agency as well as Round 1 rookie Olu Fashanu.

2) He was just 9 months removed from ACL surgery in Week 1.

3) He ranked just 27th in XFP/G through the first 11 weeks of the season.

4) The Jets were an abject dumpster fire last year, trailing on 66% of their offensive plays (2nd-worst) and averaging just 2.4 red zone carries per game (worst). It seems impossible for them not to rank at-worst middle-of-the-pack if Rodgers stays healthy this year.

From Week 12 on, Hall averaged an obscene 15.1 carries and 7.9 targets per game. Since targets became a stat in 1992, there have only been 7 RBs to eclipse 15 carries and 7.5 targets per game in a single season — Christian McCaffrey, LaDainian Tomlinson, Marshall Faulk, Le’Veon Bell, Saquon Barkley, and Matt Forte, who all accomplished this feat only once in their career.

This is extremely rare and insanely valuable (league-winning) usage. For me, Christian McCaffrey is the only RB you’re allowed to draft ahead of Hall this year. And the gap between them is probably a lot closer than most would think.

Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts

ADP: RB5, Round 2

Jonathan Taylor earned his first start of the season in Week 7. From that point on, he ranked 3rd among all RBs in Underdog’s half-point PPR format by FPG (16.8). He did this with only a 66% snap share, while splitting time with Zack Moss (now in Cincinnati). Playing time is unlikely to be a concern in 2024, as the Colts have not prioritized signing a credible RB2 — Trey Sermon and Evan Hull (who combine for 85 career touches) are currently battling for the spot in training camp. And zooming out beyond 2023, Taylor has one of the best bell-cow resumes on the board — only Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, and Josh Jacobs have averaged more weighted opportunities per game over the past three seasons.

De’Von Achane, RB, Miami Dolphins

ADP: RB7, Round 2

De’Von Achane just posted the single most efficient differential (+6.2) against his weighted opportunity of any RB in the past decade. Among RBs age 23 or younger drafted in Rounds 1-3 since 2014, only Achane, Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara, Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, Christian McCaffrey, Jonathan Taylor, and Tevin Coleman have posted a differential of +3.5 or better. This should be evidence enough that Achane is supremely talented (and it’s no coincidence that Coleman, the one non-fantasy superstar on the list, was coached by Kyle Shanahan and Mike McDaniel that year — their system is incredible at getting elite efficiency out of RBs).

Once upon a time, fantasy managers near-universally expected a historically hyper-efficient Alvin Kamara to regress following his rookie season. And he sort of did, falling from an insane +5.7 differential to a less insane but still great +3.3 differential. But Kamara received a +42% increase in volume that season, leading him to average 20.9 FPG in Underdog scoring that year.

Every single player in the same efficiency stratosphere as Achane experienced a significant volume increase in their sophomore season. Outlier talents (like Kamara and the others above) are the type of players who swing fantasy championships — Achane has the best chance of replicating that of any RB we’ve seen in years.

An old and injury-prone Raheem Mostert and a Day 3 pick whose profile pales in comparison to Achane’s are his only obstacles to touches. And Achane could further convince the Dolphins of his ability to handle more volume after bulking up, which he’d never been able to do before as a former (incredibly well-decorated) track athlete. Or put another way, Achane received just 42.4% of his backfield’s weighted opportunity when active…if he’d received 70% of the work (about the same as Isiah Pacheco and Tony Pollard), he’d have averaged 19.3 WO/G behind only Christian McCaffrey — the opportunity available in this backfield is massive.

Achane has an extremely wide range of outcomes for an early pick, but his potential to break fantasy football is the highest of any RB outside of Round 1 — a screaming must-draft at cost. I’ll be drafting many shares.

Isiah Pacheco, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

ADP: RB12, Round 4

Over his last nine games from the bye through the Super Bowl, Pacheco averaged a whopping 16.9 FPG (would have ranked 4th-best among RBs last year) and a healthy 66.1% team rush attempt share (4th-best). Pacheco’s red zone attempt share grew from 56.8% (14th) before the bye to 80.4% (2nd) — only Kyren Williams averaged more FPG in the red zone than Pacheco from Weeks 10-18.

Much of Pacheco’s second-half success can be attributed to the injury and subsequently diminished role of Jerick McKinnon — in four games last year with McKinnon out of the lineup, Pacheco averaged 19.7 Underdog FPG (would have ranked 3rd-best) and a 14.9% target share (5th-best). With McKinnon off the team (and appearing unlikely to return after the Chiefs gave his number to rookie Xavier Worthy), and no additions of consequence to the backfield, there’s a real chance Pacheco is again deployed in an every-down bell-cow role on what’s likely to be one of the best offenses in the league. That makes him a screaming value at ADP.

Aaron Jones, RB, Minnesota Vikings

ADP: RB19, Round 6

Jones is just the RB16 on Underdog, even though he’s paid off that ADP in 5 of his last 6 seasons, finishing 27th (2023), 11th, 13th, 4th, 4th, and 16th in FPG. And he’s accomplished this feat despite eclipsing a 66% snap share in just 6 of his last 36 games (17% vs. the fantasy RB1 average of 52%). Obviously, that figure in 2023 doesn’t look great, but his numbers were heavily skewed by injury – excluding games in which Jones suffered an injury, was on the injury report with an injury, or in his first game back from injury, Jones averaged 100.8 YFS/G (would have ranked 3rd-best if over the full season) in spite of a 59.3% snap share (~RB17).

For years, we’ve been begging Green Bay to fully unleash Jones (#FreeAaronJones), who is easily one of the most efficient RBs in the game – he’s out-scored his weighted opportunity per game at a top-12 rate in 5 of his last 6 seasons. Instead, Green Bay was again content to let A.J. Dillon plod his way to 3.4 YPC, and vulture all of the team’s red zone carries despite converting shockingly few of them into touchdowns.

But in Minnesota, the dream may finally be realized. HC Kevin O’Connell tried out Alexander Mattison as his bell cow last year – from Weeks 1-6, Mattison ranked 4th among all RBs in XFP, averaging 13.7 carries and 4.7 targets per game – he just wasn’t any good, so that usage didn’t stick.

In conclusion, it looks to me like Jones is priced at his absolute floor (even if he’s again stuck in a committee) while possessing immense fantasy upside (legitimate top-5 upside if he’s a bell cow) that’s coming completely free at cost.

Jonathon Brooks, RB, Carolina Panthers

ADP: RB24, Round 8

Brooks is probably the most mispriced RB in current Underdog drafts (ADP: RB24). If his price jumps multiple rounds, he will still be a must-draft. If we get word he’s going to miss the start of the season and then be eased into playing time, he will still be a must-draft. (Remember, the season's final four weeks are exponentially more important than the first four weeks. And this is especially true in Underdog’s tournament-style format.)

The bottom line is that this is a prospect that Scott Barrett adored – a RB with legitimate bell cow or every-down potential (something which is growing increasingly less common in today’s NFL). HC Dave Canales was equally enamored with Brooks, and he saw him exactly the same way.

Basically, imagine Brooks in the Rachaad White role. (Last season, White ranked 1st in snaps, 2nd in carries, and 4th in receptions.) And then remember that Brooks is significantly more talented than Rachaad White. [1, 2] Even if this year's Panthers are significantly worse than last year's Buccaneers, Rachaad White-like usage in the passing game can easily overcome that — Brooks is an incredible pick any way you cut it.

Raheem Mostert, RB, Miami Dolphins

ADP: RB28, Round 8

Prior to Mostert’s Week 16 injury, only three players had more Underdog fantasy points – Christian McCaffrey, Tyreek Hill, and CeeDee Lamb. Despite missing two games, Mostert still finished as fantasy’s RB2. You can now draft him as the RB29 on Underdog. Not much else really needs to be said beyond that.

Marshawn Lloyd, RB, Green Bay Packers

ADP: RB45, Round 12

The bottom line is that:

1) This has historically been an almost perfectly evenly split backfield, but one of the most valuable committee backfields in fantasy. I don’t see that changing just because the Packers handed Josh Jacobs $12.5M guaranteed – HC Matt LaFleur told the media in June that although Jacobs is capable of being a high-volume back, his philosophical preference is for a platoon.

2) Josh Jacobs is coming off one of the least efficient seasons of any RB in recent memory, which very frequently results in losing opportunities the following year.

3) We know A.J. Dillon is terrible, and I think (finally) so does Green Bay, who signed Dillon to a 1-year prove-it deal with only $167,500 guaranteed.

4) Director of the Senior Bowl Jim Nagy told us he thought Marshawn Lloyd was the best RB in the 2024 class, and our own Brett Whitefield had him only a little lower (2nd-best).

5) The “vibes” on Lloyd are insane – the Packers view Lloyd as their Aaron Jones replacement, love his pass-catching potential, and want to get him up to speed immediately and use him as much as possible right away.

Top Values

Kyren Williams, RB, Los Angeles Rams

ADP: RB8, Round 3

One of our key takeaways from the 2023 season was that the fantasy community dramatically overestimated the impact of rookie RBs drafted on Day 2, with players like Tank Bigsby and Kendre Miller causing drafters to miss out on high advance rate selections like Travis Etienne and Alvin Kamara. And it seems like that may be about to happen again with Blake Corum affording drafters a major discount on Kyren Williams.

Last year, Williams finished behind only Christian McCaffrey (and top-25 among all RB seasons over the past decade) in weighted opportunities per game, one of the stickiest and most predictive stats available at the RB position. He’s being selected multiple rounds below where that type of volume would imply — in other words, Williams’ median outcome (Corum taking a few drives per game) is entirely priced in. And remember, Sean McVay is notorious for deploying a singular bell-cow RB (so long as he has one he likes). Corum could have been selected mostly as an insurance policy (as the team has more or less implied [1, 2]) to avoid having to sign Darrell Henderson off the street again (and, to be fair, Kyren did come into minicamps banged up). Williams is an incredible value as a medium-risk, high-reward bet if his opportunity share remains the same.

Derrick Henry, RB, Baltimore Ravens

ADP: RB9, Round 3

I (Scott Barrett) laid out my eight-point argument earlier in the offseason, here:

But before you get too excited, note that Henry is merely a “Top Value” and not a “Must Draft.” There’s still some risk (mostly age or wear-and-tear-related injury risk), and some holes we can poke in these arguments (Baltimore has three new starters on their offensive line). (No, Lamar Jackson is not a concern for Henry but an asset – Jackson doesn’t frequently vulture touchdowns and due to the added stress he puts on a defense, Baltimore’s RBs have ranked top-2 in YPC in each of the last five seasons.) In any case, it should be clear that the upside argument vastly outweighs any concerns at his current cost.

Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, New England Patriots

ADP: RB20, Round 7

Stevenson offers significantly more upside than his RB20 ADP suggests. If he’s a committee back, he’s either priced appropriately, or he’s a slight value. If he’s a bell cow, he’s a likely league-winner at that cost. We know Bill Belichick loved a committee backfield, but new OC Alex Van Pelt is a little more of a mystery (as is Drake Maye, who could elevate the offense far beyond what ADP implies). But I love Stevenson’s odds up against Antonio Gibson, who ranks bottom-10 in YPC over the last three seasons (3.9), averaged only 4.1 carries per game in 2023, and handled only 1 carry inside the 10-yard-line all year.

Don’t forget Stevenson was a Christian McCaffrey-like bell cow for a nine-week stretch in 2022. And then last year – although he split time with Ezekiel Elliott – Stevenson still averaged 13.4 carries and 4.5 targets per game (7th-most) prior to injury. And he appeared on the verge of taking over the backfield before that injury, hitting 20-plus carries and 5 targets in each of his last two full games. This, combined with Stevenson’s league-best strength of schedule (+0.68) and second-best playoff schedule (+2.42), makes him a phenomenal pick in current Underdog drafts.

Zack Moss, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

ADP: RB26, Round 8

Without a fully healthy Jonathan Taylor in Weeks 2-5 and Weeks 13-14, Moss averaged 20.2 carries per game and 3.2 targets per game with an 85% snap share. For clarity, that’s easy top-5 bell cow usage. He was also top-5 in efficiency by at least one measure, ranking 5th-best in NextGenStats’ rush yards over expected per attempt. Joining the Bengals, Moss finds a perfect schematic fit (see below), and an opportunity to smash his RB29 ADP.

Fantasy drafters are predicting a roughly 60/40 backfield split between Moss and Chase Brown (RB37), but HC Zac Taylor has always deployed a bell cow back, even when Joe Mixon has missed time. Moreover, Chase Brown is a liability in pass protection, a weakness going back to college that continued into his rookie season, as he earned a PFF pass block grade outside the top 120 RBs. That could become a problem on a pass-first offense with a quarterback who has taken a beating over the past few years. A Day 3 pick like Brown will not be owed playing time if he misses assignments.

This potential for a Joe Mixon-like workload means Moss offers nearly unrivaled upside at his price. (Despite injuries to Joe Burrow, Mixon has finished 8th, 3rd, 10th, and 3rd in weighted opportunities per game over the last four seasons.) If fantasy drafters are right and this is just a 60/40 split backfield, then Moss is merely perfectly priced, so all of his upside is currently free.

Tyjae Spears, RB, Tennessee Titans

ADP: RB34, Round 10

As a rookie, Spears rarely played on 1st down, because he was competing against the best early-down runner of this generation. However, if you remove all plays on 1st down, Spears led all RBs with an 18.4% target share — better than Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey. Target share is one of the stickiest stats for RBs year-over-year (targets are still “earned”, even at the RB position), targets are many times more valuable than carries, and we already know Spears ranks among the best pass-catching backs in the league.

Also working in Spears’ favor is that the Titans are likely to be much more pass-heavy in 2024 under Brian Callahan, as he’s telegraphed this very clearly. If the Titans had thrown as many times as Callahan’s Bengals did last year, Spears would have received 85 targets, the 3rd-most of any RB.

All that’s left is for Spears to earn a larger role on early downs and in the red zone — a much easier feat against Tony Pollard coming off one of the least-efficient seasons by any RB of the past decade than it was against Derrick Henry. If there were ever a time for an RB to see a major role increase, it would be in Year 2. And for whatever it’s worth, Spears bested Pollard as a runner last year in all of: yards per carry, missed tackles forced per attempt, yards after contact per attempt, stuff rate, and explosive run rate.

Gus Edwards, RB, Los Angeles Chargers

ADP: RB35, Round 10

Edwards rejoins Greg Roman – with whom he reached at least 5.0 YPC in 4 of 4 seasons – in Los Angeles. His only competition for touches comes from the oft-injured J.K. Dobbins (less than a year removed from a torn Achilles) and a rookie drafted in Round 6. Edwards is working his way back from injury himself, but it sounds like he’ll be ready to go for training camp.

The Chargers have typically ranked top-5 in pass volume over the last three seasons, but they could be closer to bottom-5 this year. In a best ball format where weekly scoring spike weeks reign supreme, only two RBs (Raheem Mostert and Travis Etienne) had more games with multiple rushing TDs than Edwards last year.

Rico Dowdle, RB, Dallas Cowboys

ADP: RB43, Round 12

I’ve had a difficult time selling anyone else on it, but as it stands, Dowdle is already one of my highest-rostered players. Here’s the crux of the argument:

1) This is probably going to be a committee backfield, but right now, Dowdle is looking like the RB1A to Elliott’s RB1B.

2) Even if this is a committee backfield, there’s plenty of volume to go around – Dallas has ranked top-7 in team weighted opportunity points per game in each of the last three seasons… Or, at least, there should be enough volume for Dowdle to pay off his RB43 ADP, and with upside beyond that, should he outplay Ezekiel Elliott, who has looked fairly washed for a number of years now.

3) I get that Dowdle hasn’t done much of anything throughout his 3-year career, but he’s also run badly with injury luck. In 2022, he appeared in only five games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. And last season, he picked up a lingering ankle injury in the second half. But The Ringer’s Danny Kelly – the best RB film evaluator I know – is a huge fan and believer in his talent. [1, 2]

Kendre Miller, RB, New Orleans Saints

ADP: RB44, Round 12

Last season, Miller was Scott Barrett’s pre-Draft RB3 and appeared an interesting bet to eventually earn volume on early downs after being selected by the Saints on Day 2. But then, Miller missed almost the entire offseason — including rookie minicamp, OTAs, and mandatory minicamp — with an MCL injury he’d sustained in the Fiesta Bowl. Then, he re-injured the same knee in the Saints’ first preseason game, and pulled his hamstring less than two weeks before the regular season opener, costing him the first two games. Miller eventually took the field, but was used sparingly until being shut down for the year after spraining his ankle in Week 9.

Obviously, Miller’s durability is a concern. But considering how little practice time he got as a rookie, his disappointing season shouldn’t have been too surprising — it may be wise to write off rookie years for RBs injured in training camp, as was the case for Kyren Williams in his rookie season. And there’s a good chance Miller gets an opportunity in Year 2, as Jamaal Williams ranked 48th among 49 qualifying RBs by YPC, and Kamara ranked dead-last among all 35 150-plus carry RBs by yards after contact per attempt. (And Kamara – now 29 years old – also appeared to wear down at the end of the season, falling below a 60% snap share in 4 of his final 6 games.)

Kamara is also currently holding out, while the Saints have just $12 million in cap space in 2024 (and are currently well over the cap in 2025), meaning it’s unlikely they’d add any other backfield depth of consequence. Whether through injury, holdout, or ineffectiveness, there appear to be several paths for Miller to see an expanded workload — and at a Round 12 ADP, I’m not too concerned about whether the Saints will deploy frequent Taysom Hill packages at the goal line, either.

Jaleel McLaughlin, RB, Denver Broncos

ADP: RB52, Round 13

As the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher, McLaughlin also immediately flashed at the NFL level. His top-10 finish in missed tackles forced per touch as a rookie was easy to contrast with the struggles of starter Javonte Williams, who plodded his way to 0.14 missed tackles forced per touch (4th-worst) and 3.80 yards from scrimmage per touch (5th-worst) — injury-related or not. And HC Sean Payton may have done just that, making it rather clear he has no affinity for Williams.

On the flip side, Payton spoke glowingly of McLaughlin by the end of the year, suggesting he’s a prime candidate for the “joker” role in his offense once filled by fantasy superstars like Reggie Bush, Darren Sproles, and Alvin Kamara. McLaughlin posted a Kamara-esque 1.98 YPRR as a rookie (4th-best) and is a nearly free high-upside flyer on an offense overwhelmingly likely to support high volume for whichever RB catches passes.

Tyrone Tracy, RB, New York Giants

ADP: RB57, Round 16

Tracy is one of the most tantalizing Day 3 prospects I can remember, having converted from the WR position to lead his draft class in yards after contact per attempt in his only season as an RB. Day 3 rookies are normally low-percentage bets in fantasy football, but in a backfield with only Devin Singletary and a smattering of other Day 3 and UDFA-level talents… perhaps Tracy has a chance to make an early impact in the receiving game, especially with Malik Nabers as the only player on the team likely to command significant targets. Tracy is worth taking shots on on the off-chance he works his way into volume on the ground as well — his 209-pound frame and 87th-percentile SPORQ athleticism score suggest a theoretical capability to operate as a three-down player.

Elijah Mitchell, RB, San Francisco 49ers

ADP: RB62, Round 18

Mitchell is the “clear No. 2” running back behind Christian McCaffrey in early workouts (per David Lombardi). At a bare minimum, Mitchell should be able to provide a smattering of spike weeks in positive blowouts; Mitchell reached 14.0 fantasy points in back-to-back games to close out the 2023 season. In 2022 – believe it or not – he averaged 63.0 rushing YPG across the three games both he and McCaffrey appeared. But if McCaffrey – formerly considered one of the most injury-prone players in football – were to suffer a season-ending injury tomorrow, Mitchell would immediately jump 12 or more rounds in ADP. In other words, he’s the perfect Best Ball Mania pick; providing value in a worst-case scenario in addition to league-winning potential in a best-case scenario (should McCaffrey miss time, at least throughout the fantasy playoffs).

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

ADP: RB65, Round 18

As mentioned above with Pacheco, the Chiefs have made no additions to the backfield of real consequence, while letting Jerick McKinnon go in free agency. This leaves CEH as the unchallenged RB2 on one of the league’s best offenses, a rare type of player to get at low ownership in the final round of a best-ball tournament. He averaged a perfectly usable 13.0 FPG in two games without Pacheco last year, including a 17-touch outing against the Patriots in Week 15.