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The Candidates to Be the Overall RB1 in 2024

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We turn our attention to the running back position, as we try to identify the candidates who can legitimately finish as the overall RB1. Chasing Christian McCaffrey is going to be difficult but there are some really, really good players toward the top that truly have a case to outscore him in 2024.

Let’s take a look.

Fantasy RB1 Candidates In 2024

Tier 1: The Favorites

Christian McCaffrey, San Francisco 49ers
Breece Hall, New York Jets
Bijan Robinson, Atlanta Falcons

Tier 1 Team 2023 FPPG
Christian McCaffrey San Francisco 49ers 24.5
Breece Hall New York Jets 17.1
Bijan Robinson Atlanta Falcons 14.5
INGLEWOOD, CA – OCTOBER 30: San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey (23) celebrates after an NFL football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams on October 30, 2022 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, CA. (Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire)

I don’t think I need to go in-depth as to why Christian McCaffrey is the clear RB1 in fantasy. But he’s awesome and it’s fun, so I’ll do it anyway. McCaffrey averaged over three more fantasy points per game than the next closest running back last season, while finishing as a top-12 option in 13 of 16 games. His worst fantasy finish all year long? RB21. His average fantasy finish? RB6. Since making his San Francisco debut in Week 7 of 2022, McCaffrey has averaged 23.2 PPR points and 5.5 targets per game. This past season, he led the NFL in snap share (79%) and route participation (78%), while seeing either a carry or a target on over 40% of his snaps. He’s not only the clear RB1 for 2024 but one of the best fantasy football players we have ever seen.

After a slow start to the season, Breece Hall finally began to fully take over the Jets backfield in Week 5. From that point on, Hall logged 65% of the snaps, handled 67% of the team rush attempts and posted an absurd 19.5% target share, easily the highest rate among running backs during that span. The pass game usage was huge, as Hall was targeted on 27% of his routes last year. The Jets quarterbacks were not willing (or able) to take shots down the field, while the pass-catchers after Garrett Wilson were non-existent. That target share isn’t sustainable, but Hall still offers so much upside, especially after the Jets upgraded the offensive line. 40.5% of Hall’s rushing yards came off breakaway runs (15-plus yards) last year, the second-highest rate in football. With the Jets offense set to take a huge step forward with a healthy Aaron Rodgers, Hall could contend with McCaffrey in 2024.

Bijan Robinson, if given the appropriate usage, can also keep up with Hall and McCaffrey. Arthur Smith is gone, which means Robinson should see a more consistent role. As a rookie, Robinson averaged just 12.6 carries per game. His short-yardage usage was awful, seeing two total goal line carries and just 18.2% of Atlanta’s carries from inside the five-yard line. Robinson made up for it with great receiving usage, ranking third among running backs in targets (86), averaging 5.1 per game. Assuming he takes a much larger role in Year 2, Robinson’s ceiling is as high as anyone in the league.

Tier 2: The Contenders

Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit Lions
Saquon Barkley, Philadelphia Eagles
Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
Kyren Williams, Los Angeles Rams
Josh Jacobs, Green Bay Packers

Tier 2 Team 2023 FPPG
Jahmyr Gibbs Detroit Lions 16.1
Saquon Barkley Philadelphia Eagles 15.9
Jonathan Taylor Indianapolis Colts 15.6
Kyren Williams Los Angeles Rams 21.3
Josh Jacobs Green Bay Packers 13.9
DETROIT, MI – SEPTEMBER 24: Detroit Lions running back Jahmyr Gibbs (26) runs wide for a long gain during the Detroit Lions versus the Atlanta Falcons game on Sunday September 24, 2023 at Ford Field in Detroit, MI. (Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire)

Lions GM Brad Holmes recently stated he would “definitely expect” Gibbs to see more work in 2024. That’s exciting, especially considering how good he was in 2023. As a rookie, Gibbs finished eighth among running backs in fantasy points per game, while also ranking top-10 in targets, target share and fantasy points per snap. The only thing that can really keep him from being in the first tier is David Montgomery’s presence, particularly around the goal line. Montgomery had 13 goal-line carries last year, and his 17 carries inside the 5-yard line were the fourth most in football.

Saquon Barkley has already shown that he can finish as the RB1 in fantasy and now gets a massive offensive upgrade. For most of Barkley’s time in New York, the Giants have had arguably the league’s worst run-blocking unit. Per FTN Data, Barkley was contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage on 46.6% of his carries last year, one of the highest rates among qualified running backs. He averaged just 1.34 yards before contact per attempt, while 23% of the Giants’ rush attempts were stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage, the second-highest rate. Last season, D’Andre Swift averaged a whopping 2.49 yards before contact per rush behind this Philadelphia offensive line, while being contacted behind the line of scrimmage on 17.1% of his carries, a top-10 rate. And back in 2022, Miles Sanders averaged 3.2 yards before first contact per attempt, the fourth-highest rate among qualified running backs. His 488 yards before contact were the third-most in the league, while Sanders also saw 30 carries where he wasn’t even contacted by a defender. If Jalen Hurts doesn’t score as many 1-yard rushing touchdowns this year, Barkley would have the best chance of reaching Tier 1.

Tier 3: The Underdogs

Travis Etienne, Jacksonville Jaguars
Rachaad White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Derrick Henry, Baltimore Ravens
Isiah Pacheco, Kansas City Chiefs
James Cook, Buffalo Bills

Tier 3 Team 2023 FPPG
Travis Etienne Jacksonville Jaguars 16.6
Rachaad White Tampa Bay Buccaneers 15.8
Derrick Henry Baltimore Ravens 14.5
Isiah Pacheco Kansas City Chiefs 15.3
James Cook Buffalo Bills 13.9

Hand, meet glove.

This is a perfect and, for opposing defenses, terrifying fit. Henry is at his best going off tackle and downhill, which is exactly what this Baltimore run scheme wants to emulate. The future Hall of Fame back has led the NFL in carries in four of the past five seasons but has been less efficient as of late. Tennessee’s poor run-blocking unit has a lot to do with that, especially last year when Henry averaged just 1.62 yards before contact per rush last year, while 454 of his 1,167 rushing yards came before contact (38.9%). And according to FTN Data, Henry was contacted in the backfield on 27.1% of his carries.

Things will look much better in Baltimore.

For starters, the zone-read, power run game with Henry and Lamar Jackson could be unstoppable. And given the gravity that Jackson has on opposing defenses, Henry would see a lot more open lanes to run the football. Previous Ravens running backs have been very fortunate when it comes to yards before contact over the years.

Secondly, the touchdown upside really excites me. We just watched Gus Edwards, in this same Baltimore offense, lead the league in carries inside the 5-yard line (19), converting them into 12 touchdowns. And keep in mind that the Ravens don’t call designed runs for Lamar Jackson from in close all that much, as he’s seen a total of nine carries from inside the five-yard line over the last two seasons. Yes, I know he’s 30 years old. But Henry still has plenty left in the tank and could legitimately score 15-plus touchdowns in 2024.

KANSAS CITY, MO – DECEMBER 10: Buffalo Bills running back James Cook (4) runs into the end zone for a touchdown during the first half against the Kansas City Chiefs on December 10, 2023, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire)

And while the overall RB1 finish is probably a stretch, I do think there is plenty of upside with James Cook this year. He already broke out last year, finishing as the RB12 in fantasy. The concern in this offense is touchdown upside, as Josh Allen rushed for 15 touchdowns. But this might transition into more of a run-centric offense, which we saw once Joe Brady took over last year. From Week 11 on, the Bills posted the league’s sixth-highest neutral script rush rate at 48%. There is also pass-catching potential here, too. Cook hauled in a solid 44 balls last year but with Stefon Diggs gone, he could be in line for 50-plus catches. According to FTN Data, Cook’s target share climbed by over 4% with Diggs off the field last year.

Tier 4: The Deep Sleepers

De’Von Achane, Miami Dolphins
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
Kenneth Walker, Seattle Seahawks
Joe Mixon, Houston Texans
Aaron Jones, Minnesota Vikings
David Montgomery, Detroit Lions

Tier 4 Team 2023 FPPG
De’Von Achane Miami Dolphins 17.3
Alvin Kamara New Orleans Saints 17.9
Kenneth Walker Seattle Seahawks 13.3
Joe Mixon Houston Texans 15.7
Aaron Jones Minnesota Vikings 12.3
David Montgomery Detroit Lions 14.8

Two players from this tier stand out the most. De’Von Achane was unreal as a rookie, averaging a league-high 7.7 yards per touch, while also averaging an absurd and totally sustainable 7.8 yards per carry. With his speed, Achane is clearly a perfect fit in this offense, while his 17.3 fantasy points per game ranked fifth in the league. He will continue to split work with Raheem Mostert, but Achane has clearly shown he has immense upside in limited work.

NEW ORLEANS, LA – OCTOBER 06: Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Jordan Whitehead (31) makes the tackle against New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) during the game between the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on October 6, 2019 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, LA. (Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire)

Meanwhile, pass game volume could help Alvin Kamara get there again. He averaged almost 18 fantasy points per game in 2023, largely due to 5.8 receptions and 6.7 targets per game. Derek Carr was among the league leaders in check down passes last season, which led to Kamara being targeted on a whopping 32% of his routes. The rushing efficiency has started to drop but we know receptions are more valuable than carries and Kamara should contend for the most receptions at his position in the league.

Finally, Joe Mixon joins a loaded Houston Texans offense that also quietly gives him an offensive line upgrade, too. Volume has always been key for Mixon, but I don’t see that going anywhere in Houston. And while Dameon Pierce was a massive bust in 2023, Devin Singletary was not. Once Singletary took over the lead role in Week 9, the veteran didn’t look back. From that point on, Singletary logged 69% of the snaps and just over 68% of the rush attempts, while also averaging 19 touches and 13.5 PPR points per game during that span. He was fantasy’s RB13 from Week 9 on, which could be Mixon’s floor in this ascending offense.

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