In today’s fantasy football market, finding sleepers has become much more difficult. Generally, there are a few criteria that I look for when targeting running backs.

  1. A player who has not yet broken out. Paying for the pre-breakout price tag is a lot cheaper than the post-break breakout price tag. We need drastic positive changes in value to win fantasy leagues.
  2. Football is a young man’s game. Consider that dynasty assets at RB should probably be sold around the age of 25 years old (or earlier).
  3. If the player is not a rookie, it’s favorable if the player has popped in terms of advanced metrics. It also helps if there’s a potentially overvalued veteran in front of the player, decreasing their price.

Here are three running backs that I am targeting in 2024.

Tyjae Spears – ADP 118.2

Per RotoViz’s excellent Prospect Box Score Scout, coming out of college, Tyjae Spears’ most similar prospects were Kendall Hunter, Jamaal Charles, and J.K. Dobbins. Note this comparison does not include some athletic testing in which Spears didn’t participate but is exciting nonetheless.

As a 22-year-old rookie, in a backfield led by Derrick Henry, Spears finished with 100 carries and 70 targets. That’s a lot of work in a season in which Henry played all 17 games. Per Pro Football Reference, Spears and Henry played the exact same number of snaps (558) in 2024. He certainly exceeded preseason expectations, as few thought there would be a true 50/50 split between the rookie and “The Big Dog”.

Per Pro Football Reference, below is a list of all rookie running backs, since 2010, to catch at least 45 passes for 300 yards.

Saquon Barkley121917217.9445.1
Alvin Kamara1008182610.2551.6
Christian McCaffrey113806518.1540.7
Najee Harris94744676.3327.5
Nyheim Hines81634256.7226.6
Duke Johnson74615348.8233.4
Bijan Robinson86584878.4428.6
Jahvid Best80584878.4230.4
Giovani Bernard71565149.2332.1
Kareem Hunt63534558.6328.4
Tarik Cohen71533536.7122.1
Jahmyr Gibbs71523166.1121.1
Tyjae Spears70523857.4122.6
Trent Richardson70513677.2124.5
Miles Sanders635050910.2331.8
Doug Martin70494729.6129.5
James Robinson60493447324.6
Roy Helu59493797.7125.3
D'Andre Swift57463577.8227.5
Le'Veon Bell66453998.9030.7
Javorius Allen62453537.8222.1

It’s an impressive list of rookie running backs, especially for PPR leagues like Apex. Per RotoViz, Spears led all running backs with the highest missed tackle rate on his receptions. He finished tied for the 4th highest evasion rate. If Spears can add more volume to his valuable receiving role, he can massively break out in 2024.

The Titans replaced Henry with Tony Pollard. Entering 2023, Pollard had averaged an explosive 5.1 yards per carry and 6.3 yards per target as primarily a backup. But as the Cowboys starter last season, he fell to 4 yards per carry and 4.6 yards per target as they were forced to rely on their passing game. Per RotoViz, only Dameon Pierce, Alexander Mattison, A.J. Dillon, Javonte Williams, Joe Mixon, and Miles Sanders accrued more negative rushing fantasy points over expectation than Pollard.

Dameon PierceHOU1391.6-38
Alexander MattisonMIN15103.7-36.1
AJ DillonGB15108.2-34.9
Javonte WilliamsDEN15122-33.8
Joe MixonCIN16166.1-25.8
Miles SandersCAR1570.1-22.7
Tony PollardDAL16146.5-21
Austin EkelerLAC13111.9-20.2
Josh JacobsLV13134.7-18.2
Rachaad WhiteTB16145.2-17.7

While Pollard could have been playing hurt and could regain some of his pre-injury explosiveness, I’d prefer to bet on the cheaper and younger pass-catching 23-year-old. Once a running back on their second contract begins to slip in terms of efficiency, it’s rarely a good sign.

Chase Brown – ADP 120.4

Although he wasn’t a high pick, Chase Brown was a backfield dominator in college and tested as an elite athlete. He didn’t receive a lot of work as a rookie (51 carries and 15 targets) but was explosive in his limited touches.

While he could improve before contact, Brown averaged an elite 3.6 yards after contact. He was also excellent at breaking tackles, finishing behind just Jaylen Warren and Jahmyr Gibbs in broken tackle percentage (of RBs with at least 50 rushing attempts).

As a receiver, Chase led the league with 4.7 yards per route. Only De’Von Achane finished with a higher evasion percentage as a receiver.

If you don’t trust his production due to the small sample size, watch his highlights. Even on the limited touches, he was the NFL’s second-fastest ball carrier last season.

While Zack Moss played well for the Colts last season, he’s far from a commanding player – the Bengals also failed to add any meaningful RB competition from the NFL draft. Aside from last year’s stint with the Colts, due to Jonathan Taylor’s holdout, Moss has never dominated an NFL backfield. Moss is likely penciled in for goal-line work but I expect Brown to control passing downs with upside for more. On a Bengals offense that should be one of the NFL’s elite, there should be plenty of opportunities to go around.

It’s important to remember that only one team wins each fantasy league. We want the players with explosive upside, and Brown is cheaper with a wide range of outcomes.

If nothing else, he appears extremely dedicated. Brown recently described himself as a “home run hitter” with the ability to make plays in open space. He’s taking care of his body and investing in his health as he prepares for a bigger role and is on a mission to be a “better all-around player”.

Marshawn Lloyd – ADP 144.3

Marshawn Lloyd was one of the big NFL Draft winners in terms of landing spot. After the departure of Aaron Jones, the Packers drafted Lloyd and signed Josh Jacobs. AJ Dillon had such a rough year that it’s difficult to imagine that he’s in the Packers’ future plans.

Amongst the rookie running backs, Lloyd finished first in broken tackle percentage and yards after contact per attempt. He was excellent in the combine, running a 4.46 40-time to notch a 93rd percentile speed score.

As Shawn Siegele expertly noted, Lloyd finds himself paired with two of the NFL’s least efficient runners last season.

As is the case with Pollard, it’s concerning when a veteran running produces decreased efficiency – it is rarely regained. Jacobs’ yards per touch of 4.1 last season was the lowest of his career.

While the Packers did pay Jacobs, their offensive coordinator is enthusiastic about the rookie.

Head coach Matt LaFleur had the following to say:

“He definitely can be a weapon out of the backfield. I love all the measurables. He’s a 220-pound back that runs 4.4 and can run routes out of the backfield. I think he could be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.”

It’s certainly possible that Lloyd could pop as the most explosive runner on a good Packers’ offensive this season.