NFL Rookie Dynasty Rankings 2024: Running Back, Part One

1. Jonathan Brooks, Texas

The former Longhorn played behind both Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson for two years—a reasonable excuse for his late breakout—before taking over the starting role in 2023. He excelled in his lone season as the starter, rushing 187 times for 1,139 yards and 10 scores. Johnson also added 25 grabs for 286 yards and a score through the air while averaging 1.5 yards per route run. He excelled in Pro Football Focus’s advanced metrics, ranking fifth in running grade and 15th in yards after contact per attempt among Power Five backs.

The aforementioned red flag is what stopped Brooks from playing in the final four games of the year: a torn ACL. Brooks suffered the injury in the second week of November. He told reporters at the combine that he plans to be ready for training camp. NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo has since reported the same thing and said Brooks could be ready for Week 1.

The injury also prevented him from testing, which means we don’t know exactly how athletic he is. However, he does show top-end speed and burst on tape.

Brooks has a combination of long speed, pass-catching chops, and size—he measured 6’/216 at the combine—that is rare for an NFL back and screams three-down player. There are some nitpicks in his game. He doesn’t always display elite vision when navigating traffic or when taking angles on long runs. But the weaknesses in his game are minor compared to his strengths. With the injury concerns lessening by the day, I have Brooks in a tier of his own among the running backs.

2. Trey Benson, Florida State

Andddd we’re already at the committee backs. Benson suffered a catastrophic knee injury as a freshman at Oregon and transferred to FSU after not seeing the field much as a sophomore. He immediately proved to be a high-impact runner for the Noles, racking up 1,896 yards and 23 touchdowns on 310 carries over the following two seasons. He averaged .4 missed tackles forced per carry at FSU. Over the past two years, he is tied for first in MTF per carry among Power Five backs (min. 200 attempts). He led all backs in the percentage of his yards that came on breakaway runs. Benson showed off his elite traits at the combine with a blazing, 4.39 40-yard dash. At 6’/216, Benson was one of the best size-adjusted speed players at the combine.

Better film analysts than I have some issues with Benson’s vision and footwork. He sometimes got by in college by simply being a far better athlete than most of the other players on the field. The bigger issue is simply his lack of usage. Benson never topped 20 carries in a game and didn’t account for half of his team’s carries or yards in either season at Florida State. Benson was also used sparingly as a receiver, topping out at 20 catches in his two seasons as a starter.

Benson looks like a lock to go on Day Two of the draft and could be the first back called early in the second round. Committee backs who get buy-in from their NFL team have a much easier time taking over a backfield than those who go on Day Three. In dynasty (and redraft), I’ll be willing to look over the light collegiate workload and pencil him in for a high-volume, two-down role if he goes in the top 60 picks.

3. Jaylen Wright, Tennessee

Much like Benson, Wright’s traits jump off the screen on tape. He has elite breakaway speed and made good on that skill with a 1,000-yard season on just 137 carries. Wright ranked second in YPA (min. 100 carries) among all FBS running backs last year.

Wright plants his foot in the dirt and gets up to speed quickly. Being a burner at 210 pounds makes him a nightmare to bring down and propelled him to 4.4 yards after contact per carry in 2023. That was the fifth-best mark in the FBS last year. Wright only caught 22 passes in his final season. He looks comfortable corralling balls in the flat but may not do much more at the next level. As expected, he crushed the combine with a 4.38 40-yard dash and elite burst numbers.

Like Benson again, the usage just wasn’t there for a typical Day Two pick. Wright failed to reach even a 40 percent share of his team’s carries in a season. On the other hand, Tennessee’s Josh Heupel has been a head coach at two different programs for a total of six years. The high-water mark for carries in a season by one of his running backs is 157.

Wright is less likely to go early in the second round and isn’t as big as Benson. He also controlled even less of his team’s backfield than Benson. On the other hand, he appears even more explosive on tape and in the spreadsheets. For now, Benson’s projected draft capital keeps him ahead in my ranks, though the two could easily flip after the draft.

4. Blake Corum, Michigan

Through his junior season in 2022, Corum had the makings of an elite running back prospect. He was extremely efficient in 2021, averaging 3.8 yards after contact per carry and 6.6 yards per carry. Though both numbers fell in the following year, Courm’s efficiency numbers remained solid in the face of a workhorse role. He toted the rock 247 times for 1,463 yards and 18 scores in 2022 before a serious knee injury that would eventually require surgery ended his season. Corum returned for a similar role in his final season, but his advanced metrics hit rock bottom. He averaged a paltry 2.4 YAC per carry and a dismal .12 missed tackles per attempt.

Corum looked sluggish in a straight line at the combine, running 4.53 40 at 5’8/205. He partially redeemed himself with stellar agility numbers and 27 reps on the bench. Corum showed both good efficiency and elite volume early in his career and may just need more time to fully recover from the knee injury. If he can get back to that form, there’s no doubt he’ll not only succeed in the NFL but thrive. The draft buzz generally has him pinned to Day Two, so it looks like NFL evaluators are banking on getting the early-career version of the Michigan alum.

5. Marshawn Lloyd, USC

Lloyd is the last of the hyper-efficient committee backs, I promise. But it’s clear this draft class has a type. Lloyd was a top-end recruit for South Carolina but missed his freshman season with a torn ACL and didn’t see the field much as a sophomore. Finally, as a junior, Lloyd tallied 11 touchdowns on 129 touches. He averaged over four yards after contact per carry and posted a respectable 1.2 yards per route run. He capped his career with a similar season, this time at USC (the California one), rushing for 820 yards on 116 attempts. Over half of his yardage total came on carries for 15 or more yards.

The knee injury and subsequent recovery can reasonably explain Lloyd’s limited touch count at South Carolina. At USC, it’s a little harder to justify him seeing fewer than 120 carries. His market share numbers look better as he did manage to account for over half of his team’s carries in his final season. Lloyd also punched in a 4.46 40 at the combine, though his burst numbers were just adequate.

Vision, health, pass protection, and ball security were all issues for Lloyd in college and there’s a good chance they affect him in the pros. He has work to do in a lot of areas if he wants to gain the favor of his NFL coaching staff. On the other hand, Lloyd picks up big gains at will and has good enough hands to catch more than his fair share of dump-offs. Without factoring in draft capital, he would be the last player in my second tier of backs. However, I don’t think he’s nearly as good of a bet to hear his name called in the second round as the players ahead of him in my rankings, so he starts my third tier of backs.

6. Audric Estime, Notre Dame

Draft capital gets sketchy at this point and we have plenty of running backs left to talk about, so things will be more brief from here on out. Estime dominated Notre Dame’s backfield with 58 percent of the carries and 65 percent of the yards in his final season. For a big dude—6’/221–he also showed incredible explosion.

Counting Notre Dame as a Power Five school, Estime was fourth in the country in breakaway yards among P5 backs while ranking 14th in carries.

Despite excelling in the vertical and broad jumps, all anyone could talk about after the combine was Estime’s 4.71 40. That’s understandable as you can count on one hand the number of success stories from backs that slow. I’m not ignoring his combine, but I am taking it with a grain of salt. He redeemed himself with a 4.58 at Notre Dame’s Pro Day. If an NFL team signals that’s his true speed by drafting him relatively early, I will look over the slow time entirely and rank him as high as RB4.

7. Braelon Allen, Wisconsin

Allen is the true Rorschach test of this running back class. Do you like running backs who ran for 1,268 yards and 6.8 per carry when they were 17 years old? In the Big 10?! He’s your guy. What about an early declare running back who saw 60 percent of his team’s carries as a junior and over half of the carries throughout his career? Did I mention he is 6’1/235?

For those who love to dive into the advanced metrics, you’ll find a wildly different player. Allen ranked 40th in yards after contact per carry and 124th in PFF rushing grade in his final season. He was an average tackle-breaker and won’t play on third downs in the NFL as he can’t pass-block and isn’t special as a receiver.

From a dynasty perspective, it’s hard to not bet on the big, young, extremely productive back from a big school. Like Estime, if a team is willing to give up serious draft capital for Allen, he will be one of the biggest post-draft risers in the next iteration of my rankings.

8. Tyrone Tracy Jr., Purdue

A former wide receiver with a 500-yard receiving season on his resume, Tracy eventually switched to running back for his sixth and final season of college ball. Connor Rodgers talked to him about this switch at the NFL Combine.

He put together a 113/716/8 rushing line in 2023. While his counting stats aren’t impressive, Tracy shined in the advanced metrics. He led all P5 backs (min. 100 carries) in yards after contact per attempt and missed tackles forced per carry.

Tracy also crushed the combine, running a 4.48 at 5’11/209. He excelled in every other drill but the bench, where he still managed 20 reps. Tracy still has some traits of a player new to his position. He gets caught trying to bounce plays outside too often instead of taking the easy gain and coaches will limit his touches at the next level because of that. Still, his ceiling is something like Aaron Jones at the next level.

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