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2024 Dynasty Fantasy Football: Optimistic Outlooks for 3 Running Back Prospects

Memphis' Blake Watson (4) runs with the ball during the game between the University of Memphis and Iowa State University in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium on Dec. 29, 2023. (Chris Day/The Commercial Appeal-USA TODAY NETWORK)

We're still pulling together college football production data and underlying rushing and receiving metrics. But with the NFL playoffs underway, we’ll jumpstart the research on three optimistic outlooks for some 2024 running back prospects.

In this column, we’ll break down three 2024 draft-eligible running backs who pop off the page via the numbers and film.

3 RBs with Optimistic Outlooks

Blake Watson, Memphis

Based on the rushing and receiving data, Blake Watson came in as RB4 among draft-eligible running backs. Watson ranked fifth in running back dominator (RB Dom) and first in receiving yardage market share.

The only 2024 running back prospects who ranked in the top five in rushing and receiving market shares are Re'Mahn Davis, Frank Gore Jr. and Watson. 

The visual above shows the market share leaders for the draft-eligible running back prospects. These top running back producers dominate in college, garnering the rushing and receiving production for their respective teams.

Watson averages 3.3 yards after contact per attempt (YAC/Att), ranking 13th among draft-eligible running backs and 34th among 200 qualified college running backs. He also rocks an above-average rate of broken plus missed tackles (BT+MT/Att) at 18.8 percent, ranking 86th out of 200 running backs.

Memphis used him heavily as a primary receiving option. Last season, he had the most routes (261) and second-most targets (62) among college running backs. Given the receiving volume, Watson tied for seventh in yards per route run among 2024 prospects and 45th out of 200 running backs. Watson also ranked 76th in targets per route run (TPRR) at 23.8 percent in 2023.

The visual below shows the leaders in TPRR with a minimum of 150 routes and 30 targets. Watson ranks 13th among all college running backs.

He flashed similar receiving skills and production at Old Dominion — he had a 12 percent receiving yardage market share, 242 routes (No. 3) and 47 targets (No. 13) in 2022.

For context, Evan Hull, Deuce Vaughn, Jahmyr Gibbs and De'Von Achane posted similar numbers in their final college season in routes, targets and receiving yardage market share. 

Way Too Early 2024 Outlook

You could argue the competition Watson faced playing in the American Athletic Conference should bump him down the board. Well, the early market seems to be sleeping on Watson.

On film, he shows the straight-line speed to make breakaway runs while squeezing through tight spaces. Watson can win in short yardage, and he has solid receiving skills. That makes him a sleeper with an optimistic early outlook.  

Southern Miss Golden Eagles running back Frank Gore Jr. (3) carries the ball during the Lending Tree Bowl at Hancock Whitney Stadium. (Robert McDuffie-USA TODAY Sports)

Frank Gore Jr., Southern Mississippi

Speaking of competition, Gore Jr. should warrant attention based on the numbers and film — not just his NFL pedigree. Gore dominated as a junior (a 51 percent RB Dom) and had the third-best RB Dom among the draft-eligible running backs in 2024. 

Gore's advanced rushing metrics jump off the page.

He has a 3.6 YAC/Att (No. 13) and a mind-blowing 25.7 percent BT+MT/Att (No. 28 out of 200), seen in the visual above. Five running backs ranked in the top seven in each rushing metric among draft-eligible players: Bucky Irving, MarShawn Lloyd, Jaylen Wright, Kendall Milton and Gore Jr.

Running backs who create yards after contact while breaking a high rate of tackles typically translate to the NFL level and to fantasy. Those traits are evident on Gore Jr.'s film. 

As a receiver, Gore ranks third among the draft-eligible running backs in receiving yardage market share (9.7 percent) while averaging above-average yards per route run at (2).

While Gore isn't the most dynamic receiver, he can catch some passes out of the backfield. That means he can be a three-down back, not just an early-down rusher. 

Way Too Early 2024 Outlook

Gore Jr. isn't one of the top consensus RB prospects right now.

It seems almost disrespectful that some of the early mock drafts have Gore Jr. projected for the seventh round or a Day 3 pick. Maybe that's because of the lack of competition on Southern Miss' schedule (besides Old Dominion, Tulane and Appalachian State).

There's an opportunity to lean into the uncertainty with a player such as Gore Jr., though his name alone warrants attention. Based on the film and the metrics, Gore Jr. possesses the skills to be a reliable fantasy running back.

Tennessee Volunteers running back Jaylen Wright (0) dodges Kentucky Wildcats defensive back Andru Phillips (23) to strike first with a Volunteer touchdown. (Matt Stone/Louisville Courier Journal-USA TODAY NETWORK

Jaylen Wright, Tennessee

Wright's production metrics won't reel you in, but he flashed juicy metrics as a rusher and receiver. In 2022, Wright's 21 percent RB Dom wasn't anything to celebrate. However, he improved his rushing and receiving yardage; his touchdown rate regressed from 6.8 percent (2022) to 2.5 percent (2023). 

The visual below shows the leaders in YAC/Att among all running backs in college football. 

Wright tied for eighth in YAC/Att at 4.1 and seventh in BT+MT/Att (31.6 percent) out of 200 qualified running backs. When looking at the draft-eligible running backs for 2024, Wright ranks behind Lloyd (4.3) and Milton (4.2) in YAC/Att. 

In BT+MT/Att, Wright ranks third behind Lloyd (37.1 percent) and Irving (34.6 percent), with Milton close behind (29.8 percent). There's a good chance Wright's advanced rushing metrics will decline slightly with more volume.

Way Too Early 2024 Outlook

Wright creates yards after contact by churning his legs and fighting through tacklers. Wright ranked 43rd in stuff rate, meaning 13.2 percent of his carries went for zero or fewer yards, putting him inside the top 25 percent of college running backs.

He showed the footwork to move laterally with the straight-line speed to break long runs. That aligns with his BT+MT/Att and efficiency (18th in EPA/Att).

We’ll see if the NFL Combine numbers match up. However, take note of Wright heading into 2024.