jonathon brooks

Five Rookie Running Backs Worth Your Fantasy Draft Capital

Unlike the 2023 draft that featured talented running backs Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs, both of whom were selected early in the first round, not a single running back was chosen in the first round of the 2024 NFL draft.

Five Rookie Running Backs Worth Your Fantasy Draft Capital

However, based on pre-draft projections, it wasn’t entirely unexpected. Without standout talents like Gibbs, Christian McCaffrey, or Saquan Barkley, NFL teams hold off drafting a running back until a later round.     

Why It Pays To Draft A Rookie Running Back

Selected by the Carolina Panthers with the eighth pick, McCaffrey was the second running back drafted in 2017 after Leonard Furnette went to the Jacksonville Jaguars. McCaffrey yielded mixed results in his rookie year. His performance on the ground averaged only 3.7 yards per carry for 435 yards and two touchdowns. But he made up for it in the air; McCaffrey had 80 receptions for 651 yards with five touchdowns his rookie season. It’s worth noting that McCaffrey’s rookie year fantasy numbers of 226.4 PPR points pale when compared to his 2023 performance of almost 400 PPR points with the San Francisco 49ers.

Saquan Barkley hit the ground running and made a name for himself immediately. Taken second overall by the New York Giants in the 2018 draft, Barkley finished his rookie season with 261 carries for 1,307 yards, 11 rushing touchdowns, and 91 receptions for 721 yards with four touchdowns. Barkley was named to the 2018 Pro Bowl and voted the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. His fantasy managers were rewarded with 340.3 PPR points that season.  

Rookie RBs Who Exceeded Their Pre-Draft Projections

While not every NFL draft features a highly touted first-round rookie running back, the good news is that running backs selected in later rounds often emerge as diamonds in the rough. One example would be Kyren Williams, selected by the Los Angeles Rams in the fifth round (164th overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft. Williams had 228 carries for 1,144 yards with 12 touchdowns and caught 32/48 receptions for 206 yards with three touchdowns in the 12 games he played last year. He earned 255 fantasy PPR points. 

Another example is De’Von Achane, Selected by the Miami Dolphins as the 84th overall pick in the third round of the 2023 NFL draft.  Although he split the running back role with Raheem Mostert, Achane finished his rookie season with 103 carries for 800 yards and eight touchdowns. He added another 27 receptions for 197 yards with three touchdowns. A top running back for 2023, Achane racked up the most PPR fantasy points by a running back in a game, with 51.3 points against the Broncos on September 24, 2023.

RBs Who Might Become Fantasy Studs This Season

Here are five rookies from the 2024 draft who might be worth your draft capital.

Jonathon Brooks:

First off the board in the 2024 draft, University of Texas running back Jonathon Brooks was selected by the Carolina Panthers in the second round with the 46th pick. As a Longhorn, Brooks rushed for 1,139 yards on 187 carries with ten touchdowns and added 25 receptions for 286 yards with one touchdown. Brooks’ only competition in the Panthers backfield is from veterans Chuba Hubbard and former Philadelphia Eagles running back Miles Sanders. Although Hubbard had 902 yards on 38 carries with five touchdowns, the Panthers’ overall ground game needs improvement. Assuming he’s fully recovered from his ACL injury, Brooks will likely see some early action, and the starting assignment could be his for the taking.  

Trey Benson:

Selected by the Arizona Cardinals with the 66th pick in the second round, Trey Benson, a graduate of Florida State, was twice voted to the Second-team All-ACC.  In his senior year, Benson had 906 rushing yards on 156 carries with 14 touchdowns. He added another 227 yards on 20 receptions with one touchdown. Joining James Connor, who is just coming off his first 1,000-yard season, the 6’0″ 216 lb. Benson brings a combination of speed and agility to the Arizona backfield. Before the draft, several sites predicted Benson would be the number one prospect. It will be interesting to see if he lives up to that billing.       

Blake Corum:

Drafted by the Los Angeles Rams with the 83rd selection in round three, Blake Corum was an absolute scoring machine for the University of Michigan, and the reason they won the National Championship last year. Corum amassed 3,737 yards on 675 carries with 58 rushing touchdowns in 45 games. He added another 56 receptions for 411 yards with three touchdowns. Although last year’s rookie sensation Kyren Williams earned the starting assignment, his recent foot injury kept him sidelined and out of the recent OTA’s. Since Coach Sean McVay has a history of downplaying injuries, it’s a guessing game whether Williams will be ready for the season opener. If not, that opens the door for Corum to step in as the Rams starter in the short term.    

Ray Davis: 

Drafted in the fourth round by the Buffalo Bills, Ray Davis joins veteran running back James Cook in the backfield. While Davis will undoubtedly be relegated to a backup role early in the season, he has the talent to develop into a starter.  At 5’8″ Davis is a powerful back who had 1,000-yard rushing seasons at both Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Voted to the Second-team All-SEC, Davis’ pass-catching ability may present another option for Josh Allen. But his rushing touchdown options may also be limited by Allen, one of the most agile and mobile quarterbacks to cross the end zone.        

Dylan Laube:

Drafted by the Las Vegas Raiders in the 6th round with the 208th pick, Dylan Laube could be seriously undervalued. A graduate of New Hampshire, Laube racked up several awards in his senior year, including First-team Associated Press FCS All-American All-Purpose. A team captain, he earned 749 yards with nine touchdowns on 160 carries in 2023, with 68 passes for 699 yards and seven additional scores. His best game last season was against Central Michigan when he brought in 12 catches for 295 yards. In addition to his rushing and pass-catching ability, the 5’10” 210 lb. Laube is also a very competent kick returner. Now that Josh Jacobs has signed with Green Bay, Laube’s only competition for the starting assignment is Zamir White and Alexander Mattison. Laube could be the player to spark the Raiders’ offense with an explosive surprise element.    

When drafting rookies, it’s best to stash them for the first few weeks until they prove themselves. But, once they do, other Dynasty League managers will kick themselves for not grabbing him early while you could be well on your way to securing that Fantasy League playoff berth.     

Main Image: Ricardo Brazziell / USA TODAY NETWORK

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