More than ever before, there is significant turnover at the running back position among NFL teams. While this introduces uncertainty, we can use trends and analytical projections to use this uncertainty to our advantage in fantasy leagues. Whoever is getting the touches is going to score the fantasy points at the RB position, and roster turnover generates fantastic year-to-year opportunities in fantasy drafts. How should we attack new-look running games in 2024?

New-Look Running Games For 2024

It would not be prudent to simply assume that teams are going to run the ball at the same rate as the previous year. Personnel and coaching changes/tendencies need to be taken heavily into account, and we will certainly dive into any appropriate context in this article.

We also did not include the Cincinnati Bengals’ backfield in this article as we’ve already written extensively about the Chase Brown/Zack Moss split here and here.

Last year, our “Available Carries” article resulted in some decent results: we were quite high on Jahmyr Gibbs and James Cook while suggesting Chuba Hubbard and Jerome Ford as worthwhile stabs at their price.

We’ve already analyzed available targets for wide receivers here for 2024, so let’s look at the teams with the biggest changes to their running back corps and briefly analyze each situation:

Green Bay Packers

Key Additions: Josh Jacobs, Marshawn Lloyd

Key Departures: Aaron Jones

During Matt LaFleur’s tenure as head coach, the Packers have been balanced in their offensive attack. Consistently around the NFL average in both pace and run/pass ratio (per the RotoViz Pace Tool) over the past several seasons, it’s unlikely they suddenly morph into a fast-paced, pass-heavy machine.

Thus, the Packers are going to continue to have notable fantasy RB performances. Since 2019 (the year LaFleur took over), the Packers have consistently pumped out fantasy-relevant runners: Aaron Jones finished as an RB1 in every season from 2019-2022 before injuries derailed him last season, while even A.J. Dillon (who is re-signed for the 2024 season) has two top-26 seasons under his belt.

The most obvious candidate to take over the lead “Aaron Jones” role is Josh Jacobs, who the Packers made the 5th-highest paid RB in the league this offseason. He’s had experience handling heavy workloads, but there are a few red flags here:

For one, Jacobs turned 26 this offseason. Historically speaking, he’s running out of time to put up a “peak season”.

More importantly, there’s always a committee in Green Bay. Since LaFleur has been head coach in Green Bay, only once has a running back received more than 213 carries in a season (age-25 Aaron Jones in 2019). It isn’t entirely injury-related either: Aaron Jones had only missed 4 total games from 2019-2022 before missing 6 last season. A.J. Dillon received 187 and 186 carries in 2021 and 2022 respectively despite Jones missing two games over those two seasons combined.

Jacobs also struggled to repeat his efficiency last season compared to his massive breakout in 2022:

In all likelihood, he’s already had his best NFL season – he’s unlikely to repeat his 2022 success as he ages. At the very least, his ADP has fallen nearly a full round over the past month – he is now available in the early 5th as the RB12 in Underdog drafts.

The biggest reason for this is rookie Marshawn Lloyd’s hype train beginning to leave the station. Mike Braude has written about both his prospect profile and reasons why he’s one of the best RB targets in fantasy this year. Far more explosive than both Dillon and Jacobs (both had wildly inefficient 2023 seasons), Lloyd could easily emerge as an RB2/flex even without an injury. Currently available as the RB45 in the double-digit rounds, take Lloyd over Jacobs in your 2024 fantasy drafts.

Dallas Cowboys

Key Additions: Ezekiel Elliott

Key Departures: Tony Pollard

After Tony Pollard completely flopped as a lead-back, we waited in anticipation to see which RB would be starting on this explosive offense. Would they sign Derrick Henry? Draft Jonathan Brooks? Unfortunately, they settled on reuniting with the calcified husk of Ezekiel Elliott.

Optimists will say he was serviceable for fantasy lineups when Rhamondre Stevenson got hurt last year (courtesy of the RotoViz Game Splits app):

Ezekiel Elliot's 2023 splits with and without Rhamondre Stevenson

But even a cursory look at the numbers above demonstrates the obvious fact that he’s got nothing left as a runner, and his fantasy production came almost entirely from a plethora of dump-off passes. He couldn’t even muster 3 yards per carry as the lead runner towards the end of last season. Zeke was among the league’s worst in yards before contact and evasion percentage.

Turning 29 this offseason, his only hope is punching in goal-line opportunities on this potent offense and catching more dump-off passes. The Cowboys weren’t exactly peppering their RBs with targets last year (21st in percentage of passes targeting RBs, 14th in total RB targets), and it appears Zeke is going to be splitting time with incumbent Rico Dowdle who was better than him in almost every metric last year:

By not selecting any significant running backs in the draft and not signing any marquee RB free agents, the Cowboys have already told us this offense will continue to run through Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb. Despite the opportunity vacuum, don’t be afraid to pass on all Cowboys RBs in fantasy drafts this year.

New York Giants

Key Additions: Devin Singletary, Tyrone Tracy

Key Departures: Saquon Barkley

The Saquon Barkley era is finally over in New York, leaving massive shoes to fill for 2024 signee Devin Singletary. Singletary put up very good rushing numbers last year in Houston – take a look at his splits after they benched plodding starter Dameon Pierce and made Singletary their lead back:

Devin Singletary's splits before and after Week 10

He even averaged 4.5 yards per carry or better in seven of those final nine games, despite the increased workload.

Unfortunately, he goes from an offense led by C.J. Stroud to one led by Daniel Jones. The Giants also spent a 5th-round pick on wide-receiver-turned-running-back Tyrone Tracy, who is an intriguing athlete (image courtesy of PlayerProfiler):

Tyrone Tracy's combine stats

Tracy is more likely to be a passing-down specialist but the lack of dominant competition in this backfield makes him intriguing.

Singletary is reasonably priced as the RB38 and should see touches as a reasonable bye-week RB2/flex, but we’ve never seen him on an offense not led by Josh Allen or Stroud. He’s unlikely to match his past efficiency (though increased touches should make up for it), he isn’t guaranteed 3rd-down work, and his scoring potential is far lower on this desolate offense.

Los Angeles Chargers

Key Additions: Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins, Kimani Vidal

Key Departures: Austin Ekeler

This backfield has arguably the largest range of outcomes on the list, simply considering the lack of obvious options to carry the ball 200+ times.

Gus Edwards had never carried the ball over 144 times before last season, has a career total of 37 targets, and is already 29 years old. His 13 touchdowns last season more than doubled his previous career-high of 6, and he won’t see those kinds of scoring opportunities again on an offense that is going to be less explosive and slower.

He’s probably the running back to target if you’re desperate for a piece of this offense (the GM called him the “bell cow” of the backfield), but he’s already injured and is likely to have many 12/54/0-esque stat lines this season.

J.K. Dobbins was going to smash last year but suffered an Achilles rupture in Week 1 after finally recovering from a devastating 2021 knee injury. We’d like to be optimistic, but it’s tough to pull the trigger on him in drafts if Justice Hill’s and D’Onta Foreman’s careers appear to be the absolute best-case scenarios:

The most interesting piece of this backfield is 7th-round rookie Kimani Vidal, who is in as ambiguous a backfield as any. Unfortunately, there has only been one 7th-round running back since 2010 (Isaiah Pacheco) to rush for over 600 yards during his rookie season. The upside case for Vidal is as follows:

Historically, it is very unlikely for a player like Vidal to make a splash in year one (or any season, for that matter). However, if you don’t believe that Edwards is an above-average back or Dobbins can stay healthy, he’s worth a flier.

Similar to the Giants, this projects as a low-scoring offense without an alpha-talent RB on the roster. Don’t feel compelled to chase any of these guys.

Tennessee Titans

Key Additions: Tony Pollard

Key Departures: Derrick Henry

Now 27 years old, we’ve likely seen the best of Tony Pollard. After convincingly failing to prove himself a true lead-back, he should return to a more appropriate part-time role. He’s another year older and on a far less explosive offense, you should fade him at his current RB29 cost.

Instead, you should be targeting the exciting sophomore Tyjae Spears, about whom Mike Braude has already written a wonderful piece. Sneak preview: he hit rookie year receiving thresholds that put him on a list with Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, Le’Veon Bell, Bijan Robinson, Jahmyr Gibbs, and other studs.

If Spears can play his way to an exact snap split with a fully healthy Derrick Henry, he’ll have no problem earning meaningful snaps with Tony Pollard. Even as a rookie, Spears was one of only 10 running backs to have 70+ targets last season and averaged more yards per carry (4.5) than Henry did (4.2).

The best part? Spears (RB34) is cheaper than Pollard in fantasy drafts. With heavy investment in their offensive line (back-to-back seasons spending their 1st-rounder on a guard or tackle), any improvement from Levis will easily vault Spears into RB2 territory – with room for more.

Las Vegas Raiders

Key Additions: Alexander Mattison, Dylan Laube

Key Departures: Josh Jacobs

For better or worse, all signs point to this backfield being the Zamir White show after the upstart Raiders went 3-1 to close out the season (with him carrying the load):

Zamir White splits from Weeks 15-18

This is legitimate alpha usage. Here is the bull case for such usage continuing in 2023:

  • The Raiders retained Antonio Pierce as head coach, who has been vocal about running the ball a certain number of times per game.
  • They let Josh Jacobs walk in free agency.
  • Their only notable signing has been 2023 mega-bust Alexander Mattison.
  • They spent their 2nd and 3rd round 2024 draft picks on offensive linemen.
  • They did not draft a running back until the 6th round (New Hampshire’s Dylan Laube).

White got lost in the shuffle at Georgia in the usual stable of stud backs, but we still would have liked to see more production. As a prospect, he only did one thing very well: run fast for his size in a straight line (4.40 40 at 214 lbs). White doesn’t make tacklers miss but can break tackles and bettered Jacobs in yards before contact and yards after contact.

He’s currently being taken as the RB23, which is only slightly cheaper than Rhamondre Stevenson (RB20) and Jonathan Brooks (RB22) and even more expensive than D’Andre Swift (RB24) and Jaylen Warren (RB25). You’re probably better off taking one of those other options at opportunity cost, but a 1,000-yard and 8-touchdown rushing campaign isn’t out of the question. The range of outcomes here is simply massive, ranging from Kniles Davis 2.0 to a cheaper Kenneth Walker III.

Baltimore Ravens

Key Additions: Derrick Henry

Key Departures: Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins

It’s a shame it took this long to find a legitimate running partner for Lamar Jackson. Despite the ostensible advantage gained playing next to the best running quarterback of all time, only one Ravens running back (Mark Ingram in 2019) has ever surpassed 810 yards rushing in a season since Jackson entered the league in 2018.

Derrick Henry is 30 years old and ran for 4.2 yards per carry last year – tied for the lowest of his career (2016). But running backs of his caliber are the few that can produce as they age. Being paired with Lamar Jackson should both open up major running lanes and provide him with plenty more goal-line opportunities. Health allowing, Henry’s 1,167 yards and 12 touchdowns is well within range.

Per usual, he won’t catch passes and his ceiling simply cannot be what it was due to his age. At the very least, he’s the cheapest he’s been since 2019 with a current RB9 price tag.

Philadelphia Eagles

Key Additions: Saquon Barkley

Key Departures: D’Andre Swift

Like Henry, Saquon Barkley’s begun to lose efficiency as he ages. With a successful 2022 season that saw him finally stay (mostly) healthy and tote the rock 295 times for 4.4 yards per carry, Barkley struggled to maintain his health again as his yards per carry dipped to 3.9.

But also like Henry, his situation has improved drastically. He gets to run behind a still-excellent Eagles offensive line, has two legitimate receivers to attract attention, and gets an elite playmaking quarterback. In terms of efficiency, this can help supplement any explosiveness lost due to age.

The big question with Barkley remains the high-value touches: the Eagles have finished a mediocre 20th, 18th, 32nd, and 21st in total targets to RBs since 2020. We also are likely to see a return of the “tush push” near the goal line, though there is a definite chance the Eagles hand it off the Barkley more often to help spare Hurts the extra hits. Even if Hurts continues to get his chances from the one-yard-line, D’Andre Swift had 27 carries inside the 10-yard-line (8th most among RBs) while Gainwell got 10 such attempts himself. There will be opportunities.

Like Henry, health will largely determine whether he pays off at his lofty RB6 cost.

Houston Texans

Key Additions: Joe Mixon

Key Departures: Devin Singletary

Plain and simple, Joe Mixon was replacement-level in Cincinnati last year. Famously benched for Samaje Perine a few years back, they were finally able to get rid of him this offseason. He both underperformed in overall expectation despite receiving elite RB1 usage and converted a laughable 7 of his 35 rushing attempts inside the 10-yard-line for TDs.

Only besting 4.1 yards per carry once in his career (2018), Mixon will continue to make his money by trying to cash in short touchdowns. He has 139 targets since 2022, however, this may be too high of an expectation. Due to various injuries to all of Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tee Higgins, Mixon’s past two seasons may have seen an artificial inflation in receiving usage.

Now on a team armed with Nico Collins, Tank Dell, Stefon Diggs, and Dalton Schultz, Mixon will need multiple injuries to get a meaningful target share – especially considering the Texans finished 31st in total targets to RBs last season.

He wouldn’t be the first middling running back to succeed in this offense (see Devin Singletary above), but “middling” may be generous for the soon-to-be 28-year-old Mixon. Being drafted as the RB16, you’re better off pivoting.