Fantasy Football: 5 sleeper running backs for 2024

2TB0946 Carolina Panthers running back Chuba Hubbard (30) celebrates after his touchdown run in the fourth quarter during an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Peter Joneleit)

Chuba Hubbard could remain the Carolina Panthers starter: Jonathon Brooks is coming off a torn ACL, so he could be eased into action, allowing Hubbard to shine.

Bucky Irving has the best landing spot among rookies: Out of all the running backs picked in the first four rounds, Irving landed with a team that needs running back help.

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Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

These five sleepers have a 120-plus ADP by consensus boards and I have ranked them notably higher than their ADP. Some of these players will have a sub-120 ADP at other sources where a higher percentage of users are experts, but a variety of players were picked so at least some players could be considered a sleeper at any site.

Last updated: 7:15 a.m. Tuesday, July 9

Chuba Hubbard, Carolina Panthers (ADP: 13.12, From consensus ADP)

Hubbard was used in a variety of situations in his first two seasons, and his role increased significantly for the 2023 season, playing at least 64% of his team's offensive snaps in each of his last seven games. He finished at least RB28 or better in each of those games, including two weeks as a top-12 running back.

The Panthers added Jonathon Brooks in the draft, but he is coming off a torn ACL. A few weeks ago, it was reported that Brooks still has a ways to go in his recovery and will likely be eased into training camp. Hubbard has a decent chance to start early in the season, and the Panthers shouldn’t rush Brooks. Hubbard is a great gamble late in the draft as someone capable of being a feature back.

Dave Canales as Panthers head coach is also working in Hubbard’s favor. The offenses he’s been a part of have produced fantasy starter seasons from Rachaad White, Kenneth Walker III, Chris Carson and Marshawn Lynch. Those offenses have given a running back enough volume to rank in the top 20 most seasons regardless of their talent, and it’s possible for at least part of the season Hubbard sees that volume.

Jaleel McLaughlin, Denver Broncos (ADP: 13.10)

McLaughlin was the sixth-highest-graded running back last season with an 86.2 offensive grade. His yards per carry and avoided tackle rate were both top 10 among running backs. He also led all running backs in targets per route, leading to a top-10 yards per route run figure (1.63).

There wasn’t much consistency in how the Broncos used their running backs from one week to another. McLaughlin was sued significantly early in the season, phased out in late November and phased back in by mid-December. Samaje Perine played fewer snaps as the season progressed. There is talk of Javonte Williams having a better season one year further removed from his injuries, but Sean Payton has also praised McLaughlin’s work ethic this offseason. The Broncos also drafted Audric Estime in the fifth round to complicate matters.

McLaughlin is on the shorter side for running backs at 5-foot-8, but Sean Payton is no stranger to shorter running backs. Payton’s former team the New Orleans Saints have the second-most offensive snaps for running backs 5-foot-9 or shorter over the last 15 seasons, including Mark Ingram II, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles. All three have multiple seasons where they’ve been fantasy starters.

It’s fine to take chances on Williams, McLaughlin and Estime because someone is bound to have fantasy value this season. Payton has a long history of success at running back even without a full-time role. It’s certainly possible McLaughlin carves out a big enough role in the offense to consider starting him in fantasy football.

Bucky Irving, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ADP: 17.06)

Irving was selected with the 125th overall pick and had one of the best landing spots for a rookie running back. 

Ten running backs were selected in the first four rounds, but some of the landing spots were the Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets and Los Angeles Rams. All five teams had running backs who ranked in the top 10 in PFF offensive grade last season. The Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers added big-name running backs in free agency who were at one point top-three running backs by PFF grade.

This leaves Jonathon Brooks to the Carolina Panthers, Ray Davis to the Buffalo Bills and Irving to the Buccaneers as the only running backs drafted with anywhere close to a good landing spot. Chuba Hubbard and James Cook were among the top 16 in rushing grade last season. This leaves Irving as the running back with the least competition for a potential starting job.

Rachaad White put up plenty of fantasy production last season, but his 68.8 rushing grade was the 11th-lowest among the 53 running backs with at least 300 snaps. Most of the bottom 10 are set for a decline in snaps this season, including two unsigned free agents. The Buccaneers' other backups, Chase Edmonds and Sean Tucker, didn’t play much better last season. This means Irving could have the second-best odds outside of Brooks to win his team’s starting job without any injuries among the rookie class.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs (ADP: 18.04)

These last two sleepers are handcuffs who aren’t getting enough attention. They will not have fantasy value unless the starter gets injured, but the backup could have significant fantasy value.

Edwards-Helaire had lost the starting job in Kansas City to Isiah Pacheco. Even when Pacheco was injured for parts of last season, Edwards-Helaire split time with Jerick McKinnon. The veteran receiving back has plenty of experience on early downs, and there have been times when McKinnon was the backup early down back instead of Edwards-Helaire.

McKinnon is now 32 years old and the Chiefs opted not to re-sign him, at least to this point. The only other options on the depth chart are veteran Keaontay Ingram and sophomore Deneric Prince, both of whom spent most of 2023 on the Chiefs practice squad, and then a trio of undrafted rookies. Edwards-Helaire should have a feature role for Kansas City if Pacheco gets hurt at any point.

Tank Bigsby, Jacksonville Jaguars (ADP: 21.03)

Bigsby was the talk of training camp but a few major errors prevented him from becoming a major part of the offense. He dropped three of his five targets, all three of which flew up into the air after bouncing off his hands. Two of the three resulted in interceptions. He also picked up a fumble after Trevor Lawrence was hit while throwing the ball. He seemed to think it was an incomplete pass, allowing the defense to force a fumble resulting in a defensive touchdown. In the run game, he lost a fumble on one of his 51 attempts.

The one bright spot is he was an effective short-yardage runner when given the opportunity, converting nine of 11 first downs when he needed one or two yards compared to just a 58.3% rate from Travis Etienne Jr.

The good news for him in 2024 is the game is starting to slow down for him which should help with the ball security issues. Etienne was a feature back for much of the first half of the season, but he was rotated out a lot more in the second half. They intend to reduce his workload again in 2024, which should give Bigsby plenty of opportunities.

It’s unlikely Bigsby will see enough playing time normally to warrant being a fantasy starter, but there is at least a chance if he more consistently takes short-yardage situations particularly at the goal line. Bigsby is primarily on this list because he could be a feature running back if Etienne were to suffer an injury.


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