NFL Draft News & Analysis

Fantasy Football: Best running back landing spots in 2024 NFL Draft, including the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns

2W9D0H9 Las Vegas Raiders coach Antonio Pierce reacts during an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Monday, Dec. 25, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. The Raiders defeated the Chiefs 20-14. Credit: Newscom/Alamy Live News

Dallas Cowboys: The Dallas Cowboys’ fast-paced and efficient offense creates a welcoming rookie running back environment.

Las Vegas Raiders: Las Vegas Raiders head coach Antonio Pierce and offensive coordinator will build the offense around play-action passing and a high-volume run game but do not possess dependable backfield difference makers. 

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Rookie NFL players need the perfect blend of talent and situational fit to produce a high-end fantasy football season in year one. The article identifies and explains the ideal landing spots for the 2024 NFL draft’s rookie running back class. 

Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys backfield is the ideal landing spot for a 2024 running back prospect. Dallas’ exceptionally fast-paced offsets concerns related to the team’s low rushing rate and the overall offensive efficiency regularly leads to rushing attempts in the opponent’s green zone. The backfield also benefits from moderate offensive line retention.

Dallas’ 2023 offensive data among NFL teams:
2023 NFL Offense Data Dallas Cowboys
Run-Play Rate 36.5% (No. 22)
Rushing Att. 493 (No. 13)
Green Zone Run-Play Rate 39.7% (No. 28)
Green Zone Rushing Att. 53 (No. 8)
Offensive Plays Per Drive 7.1 (No. 1)
Offensive Success Rate 47.5% (No. 3)
1st Downs Gained 385 (No. 5)

Dallas’ run-centric running back Rico Dowdle earned just a 69.4 PFF rushing grade in his first season as a rotational contributor last year and untested pass-catching specialist Deuce Vaughn remains largely untested, earning a 76.0 PFF receiving grade on seven targets. 

Journeyman running back Royce Freeman could steal pass-protection snaps but a talented rookie with Day 2 draft capital could easily seize a three-down lead role by Week 1. Freeman grades out well as a pass protector, posting better than a 73.0 PFF pass-blocking grade in three-of-six years but has never logged 60 such snaps in a season, leaving room for exposure if relied upon. 

The offensive line retains three-of-five starters and projects to start two backups who each logged more than 220 offensive snaps in 2023. Crucially, the group’s two 2024 Pro Bowl players, guard-to-left tackle convert Tyler Smith (80.7 PFF run-blocking grade) and guard Zack Martin (62.3 PFF run-blocking grade) remain in-house. The front office can bolster the unit via the 24th overall 2024 NFL draft if need be.

Any rookie running back would be lucky to land in such a fantasy-friendly environment.

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles’ new head coach Jim Harbaugh saw fit to recreate offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s former Baltimore Ravens backfield, signing Gus Edwards (two years, $4.125 million) and J.K. Dobbins (one year, unknown value) to short-term contracts. Edwards is a capable rotational rusher but his 75.4 PFF rushing grade in 2023 is a career-low, as were his three primary per-play rushing metrics. Dobbins is unlikely to perform even mildly efficiently coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon, two years after tearing his ACL, LCL, meniscus and hamstring muscle. 

The group does not have a pass-catching specialist, leaving room for a high-volume dual-threat player and/or multiple situational specialists.

Baltimore posted identical, league-leading 49.2% run-play rates in 2019 and 2020, Roman’s first two seasons in Baltimore. After a dip to 21st (36.7%) in 2021, the team jolted back to sixth (45.6%) in 2022. 

Harbaugh’s famously run-heavy attack resulted in the 2023 Power Five’s second-highest run-play rate (55.6%) despite having projected first-round quarterback J.J. McCarthy under center. McCarthy’s 87.3 PFF passing grade among 37 Power Five quarterbacks with at least 350 dropbacks. He is the fourth-ranked quarterback on PFF’s big board

Harbaugh and Roman’s rushing fervor should keep even a run-centric rookie running back RB2-viable even in points-per-reception (PPR) scoring formats. Whichever player yet to join the roster emerges as the passing-down specialist will immediately compete for the No. 2 pass-catching role in Los Angeles’ thin pass-catching corps, as discussed in the best tight end landing spots for the 2024 NFL Draft piece.

Las Vegas Raiders

The Las Vegas Raiders’ road-grading offensive line makes a strong case for the league’s best run-blocking unit, returning five players who logged more than 500 offensive snaps in 2023. As discussed in best quarterback landing spots for the 2024 NFL Draft, the offense should maintain a moderate pace with a run- and play-action-heavy approach. The front office likely invests in a Day 2 running back to compete with the team’s backup-level players currently in-house. Be it a specialist or a well-rounded player, the incoming rookie should take on a fantasy-friendly high-volume role.

Among 166 offensive linemen to play at least 500 offensive snaps in 2023, Las Vegas’ 2024 group boasts four of the top 50-graded run blockers, including 2023 breakout swing tackle Thayer Munford Jr., whose team-leading 80.4 PFF run-blocking ranks 20th overall.

Running backs Zamir White, Alexander Mattison and Ameer Abdullah compromise Las Vegas’ current backfield. Their largely one-dimensional skill sets are shaky enough to consider them liabilities, even in backup roles.

White and Mattison’s rushing data among 50 NFL running backs with at least 100 rushing attempts in 2023, White, Mattison and Abdullah’s receiving data among 68 NFL running backs with at least 15 targets and White, Mattison and Abdullah’s pass-protection data among 71 NFL running backs with at least 18 pass-protection snaps. Abdullah’s (15 rushing attempts) is included but unranked:
Las Vegas Raiders RBs Zamir White Alexander Mattison Ameer Abdullah
PFF Rushing Grade 70.6 (T-No. 38) 70.2 (No. 40) 69.2 
MTF/Rush Att. 0.14 (T-No. 38) 0.21 (T-No. 12) 0.07 
Yards After Contact/Rush Att. 3.2 (No. 10) 2.8 (T-No. 33) 2.9
Yards/Rush Att. 4.3 (No. 20) 3.9 (T-No. 34) 5.9
PFF Receiving Grade 69.7 (No. 16) 41.2 (No. 67) 61.8 (No. 37)
TPRR – YPRR 18.9% (No. 28) – 1.09 (T-No. 29) 15.1% (No. 55) – 0.69 (No. 61) 16.1% (No. 49) – 0.92 (T-No. 39)
PFF Pass-Blocking Grade 46.4 (No. 53) 49.5 (No. 49) 17.7 (No. 71)

Las Vegas is an exciting landing spot for a Day 2 running back.

Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns’ expectedly fruitful run game features a talented, deep offensive line returning to full health and a name-brand backfield riddled with availability and age-related concerns. The unit does not possess a long-term starter, which could prompt head coach Kevin Stefanski to search for his future star in the 2024 NFL draft. Fantasy managers should monitor the situation closely, anticipating a potential pivot-to-the-rookie switch circa the team’s bye week. 

Cleveland guard Wyatt Teller (74.0 PFF run-blocking grade) and center Ethan Pocic 68.0 PFF run-blocking grade) both rank top 25 among 64 NFL guards and centers with at least 900 offensive snaps in 2023. The unit should vastly improve in 2024 after losing its top three tackles to season-ending injuries the prior. 

Four-time Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb is a candidate for the NFL’s physically unable to perform (PUP) list returning from a partially torn ACL, fully torn MCL and injured meniscus as 

Cleveland’s front office successfully negotiated a $9.9 million reduction in Chubb’s $11.75 million 2024 salary cap hit, reportedly converting the 2025 free agent’s contract into potential performance-related incentives. The team notably opted not to extend the 28-year-old beyond this season during discussions. 

No. 2 running back and passing-down specialist Kareem Hunt is coming off consecutive career lows in both yards per route run (YPRR, 0.83-to-0.62) and yards per rushing attempt (3.8-to-3.1).

Free agent signee pass-catcher and special teams specialist Nyheim Hines returns from a July 2023 ACL tear at age 27.

The front office signed veteran north-south running back D’Onta Foreman after ranking outside the top 30 among 50 NFL running backs with at least 100 rushing attempts in both yards per rushing attempt (3.9) and yards after contact per reception (2.8). Backup running back Jerome Ford got his shot as the team’s starter following Chubb’s injury but turned in nearly the same showing as Foreman, despite running on 24-year-old legs (3.9 yards per rushing attempt and 2.9 yards after contact per reception). Ford’s 2.0 missed tackles forced per rushing attempt tie for 18th while Foreman’s 0.19 tie for 23rd. 

Foreman and Ford could prevent a rookie from seizing a featured early-down rushing role but neither player is better than replacement-level and the passing-down role appears available. 

It is an imperfect scenario for a 2024 rookie but should Cleveland select a running back via Day 2 draft capital, the player has a quietly wide range of outcomes in year one. As discussed in the yet-to-be-published Best Role Players in the 2024 NFL Draft, Tennessee running back Jaylen Wright (85.0 PFF rushing grade on grap-scheme rushing attempts) blazed a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine and averaged more than 7.0 yards per gap-scheme rushing attempts in each of the last two years. Stefanski’s offense totaled the second-most (277) gap-scheme rushing attempts last year, making Wright an intriguing fit for Cleveland’s potent ground game. 

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