Dynasty Report: An Early Look at the 2024 Running Back Class (Fantasy Football)
While August marks the beginning of preseason in the NFL, it also signals the imminent return of college football. Especially for dynasty managers in the middle of a rebuild, you might already be looking ahead to some of the top prospects set to enter the league in 2024. If you are one of those managers, then this article is for you! In this piece, I will provide you with an early look at some of the top running backs in the 2024 class. By using historical data as our baseline, we can assess how each of their career trajectories compare to some of the best prospects to enter the league in recent history.
As we look at the running back landscape, this could be a pivotal year. With players like Austin Ekeler, Derrick Henry, and Alvin Kamara approaching the end of their prime, we could see players from the 2024 class help form the next generation of RB1s in fantasy football. And while Bijan Robinson will undoubtedly help lead this group, I would be very surprised if the 2024 class did not produce at least one or two top-12 running backs for fantasy football.
Note: College football data referenced in this article was sourced and provided by cfbfastR.
While it is unlikely that a running back will be drafted as high as Bijan Robinson, there are a few prospects who are vying for first-round capital in 2024. One of those players is TreVeyon Henderson of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Ranked as a five-star recruit and the number one running back prospect coming out of high school, Henderson entered his collegiate career with high expectations. And as you can see in the table above, he exceeded those expectations in his true freshman season. In 13 games, Henderson accounted for over 24% of his team’s total production (yards and touchdowns), while averaging an impressive 1.71 Yards per Team Play. He would also lead the Big Ten in Yards per Carry (6.8) and would finish third in Yards from Scrimmage (1,560).
To put this into context, let’s compare his true freshman season among all running backs drafted over the last decade (since 2013):
- 1.71 Yards per Team Play (97th percentile)
- 23% Weighted Dominator Rating (89th percentile)
- 1,567 Scrimmage Yards (97th percentile)
In short, Henderson was truly dominant for the Buckeyes in 2021. In fact, most prospects fail to exceed 1,500 scrimmage yards at any point in their collegiate career. The fact that Henderson produced at such a high level as an 18-year-old freshman places him in elite territory. Unfortunately, his sophomore campaign would be far less productive due to a foot injury that he suffered in Week 3 against Toledo. Per an article by Casey Smith of Sports Illustrated, Henderson played with a broken sesamoid bone that severely limited his ability to push off the turf. As a result, we saw his efficiency and usage decline in 2022, operating in a committee with Miyan Williams. The good news is that Henderson is on pace to be fully healthy for his junior season. And while Williams will continue to be involved after his mini breakout last season, I expect Henderson to once again be the RB1 for this team. And if he does find himself drafted in the first round, he would join an impressive group of day-one running backs to produce a +90th percentile true freshman season:
Another running back who could be selected in the first round is Raheim “Rocket” Sanders. A junior out of Arkansas, Sanders was a 4-star recruit who played multiple positions, contributing as a wide receiver, running back, and linebacker in high school. At Arkansas, Sanders would be a full-time running back, assuming an immediate role during his true freshman season. As you can see above, his numbers do not necessarily jump off the page. He accounted for 12% of the team’s scrimmage yards while averaging a modest 0.76 Yards per Team Play. In fact, for the first time since 1975, the Razorbacks had four running backs with over 500 rushing yards, limiting Sanders’ production to only 687 yards from scrimmage in 2021.
Fast forward to his sophomore campaign, Sanders would take a significant step forward and set career highs in a variety of production metrics. Operating as the unquestioned RB1 for the Razorbacks, he would lead them in total touches (250), scrimmage yards (1,714), and touchdowns (12) in 2022. As you can see above, he also averaged 1.78 Yards per Team Play, which would rank in the 83rd percentile among all sophomore seasons over the last decade. As a result, Sanders is on pace to be one of the top running backs in next year’s NFL draft. While his sophomore year was truly impressive, I do believe that TreVeyon Henderson is still the RB1 of this class, simply due to his superior athletic ability and elite freshman season. Keep in mind, a running back’s junior season has the highest correlation to fantasy points per game in the NFL. So while they both currently profile as top-tier prospects, Sanders and Henderson will need to elevate their game in 2023 as this season could heavily impact their dynasty outlook.
Blake Corum was on pace to be one of the top running backs in the 2023 class when a torn meniscus in late November forced him to miss the end of his junior season. While he did try to return the following week to play against Ohio State, he was quickly shut down two carries into the game when his “knee gave out trying to cut on his second carry.” After getting his meniscus surgically repaired, Corum decided to forgo the 2023 draft and instead return to Michigan for another year. Injury aside, there is a lot to like about Corum’s profile. First off, Corum’s overall frame reminds me of DeVonta Freeman and Maurice Jones-Drew. Despite being a shorter running back at 5’8”, he has the strength and size at 213 pounds to handle an RB1 workload. As a runner, Corum is also extremely shifty and was one of the most elusive running backs last season. His ability to instantly change direction horizontally and vertically make him a difficult player to tackle once he gets past the line of scrimmage.
From a production standpoint, Corum was not an immediate contributor as he played behind Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins to start his career. It was not until his sophomore year that we started to see glimpses of his potential, totaling over 1,000 scrimmage yards and 12 touchdowns in 2021. However, with Haskins still operating as the RB1, Corum’s market share metrics still left plenty of room for improvement. This brings us to his breakout season in 2022. Corum was one of the most productive running backs in the nation, averaging 126 scrimmage yards in 12 games. He would finish the season with 1.84 Yards per Team Play, which would rank in the 78th percentile among all junior seasons by a drafted running back since 2013. Keep in mind, Corum injured his knee and tried to return the following week – recording only two touches before missing the rest of the game against Ohio State. If we exclude this from his production profile, he would have averaged an elite 1.97 Yards per Team Play and 31% of the team’s total yards in 11 games. As he returns in 2023, there remains some uncertainty as he recovers from his injury. In addition, he will likely split touches with Donovan Edwards – who took over as the RB1 for Michigan after Corum’s injury. However, if he can regain his form and, at the very least, come close to his 2022 production, I would expect Corum to be a day-two pick in next year’s NFL draft.
So far in this article, we have highlighted running backs that were either limited early in their careers or took a step back as their careers progressed. This has not been the case for Braelon Allen, who has been a centerpiece of the Wisconsin Badgers’ offense since his true freshman season. When he first entered college, there were initial questions regarding the position he would play. At 6’2” and over 230 pounds, Allen has the athleticism and size to play both safety and linebacker, two positions he was familiar with from his high school days. However, he would ultimately transition to the running back position, forming a committee with Chez Melussi – a junior back in 2021. Midway through the season, Melussi suffered a season-ending knee injury, which ultimately paved the path for Allen to become the RB1. In fact, in his final four games as a freshman, Allen averaged 151 rushing yards and 1.5 touchdowns per game. He would finish the year with 1.64 Yards per Team Play, a 96th-percentile true freshman season since 2013.
In 2022, Allen would only build off of his stellar freshman campaign. He received 243 touches as a sophomore, accounting for over 30% of his team’s total production. Furthermore, he would average 1.76 Yards per Team Play, which would rank in the 82nd percentile among all sophomore seasons by a drafted running back since 2013. Even more encouraging, Allen also elevated his receiving game. On very limited opportunities (13 receptions), he averaged a career-high 8.0 yards per reception and 4.7% of the Badgers’ receiving yards. While these numbers are still very average, it was encouraging to see him improve in that facet of his game. In total, Allen possesses a very intriguing profile, considering he is one of the youngest prospects in this class (currently 19 years old). Combined with his Derrick Henry-esque physique at nearly 240 pounds, he has the tools to become an RB1 in the NFL. And while he is not necessarily as explosive or elusive as Henderson, he makes up for it with strength and contact balance, making him an extremely difficult player to tackle at full speed. Assuming he elevates his game even further in 2023, Allen should be locked in as a first or second-round selection in the 2024 NFL draft.