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2024 NFL Predictions: Who Will Be This Year’s Breakout Running Backs?

Jan 7, 2024; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders running back Zamir White (35) is pushed out of bounds by Denver Broncos linebacker Drew Sanders (41) during the second quarter at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The running back position sees more out-of-nowhere breakout seasons than any other. Just look at the 2023 season when 31-year-old Raheem Mostert posted the first 1,000-yard season of his career and led the NFL in touchdowns with 21. 

He wasn't the only breakout star at the position. Kyren Williams became a superstar in Year 2, leading the NFL in rushing yards per game (95.3) and helping the Los Angeles Rams get back to the playoffs.

But which running backs will have monster seasons in 2024? Who could emerge as the next superstar? Here are four names to watch out for this year.

>> READ: 2024 Breakout Quarterback Predictions

2024 Breakout Running Backs

Zamir White, Las Vegas Raiders 

Zamir White is maybe the most obvious breakout candidate on the list — he was Josh Jacobs’ primary backup for the past two seasons. But now that Jacobs has signed with the Green Bay Packers, White will need to step up this season. 

Jacobs led the NFL in rushing yards and yards from scrimmage in 2022 but regressed last year. When he was banged up to finish the season, it opened the door for White to showcase his talent. White started the final four games, averaging more than 110 yards from scrimmage per game. He racked up 93 touches in those four games as he shouldered the load on offense. 

White’s outstanding play down the stretch is why Jacobs didn't return in 2024 and why the Las Vegas Raiders seemingly had no interest in retaining him.

White is a good-sized back (6-foot, 214 pounds) with fantastic speed (a 4.40-second 40-yard dash) and explosion. He showed improvement last season in his ability to make plays after contact. Las Vegas only added Alexander Mattison to the backfield this offseason, so it will rely on White as the rushing attack’s focal point.

The good news is that White doesn't have much wear and tear on his body despite going into his third year in the NFL. Through two seasons, he's touched the ball just 136 times and was only a part-time player at Georgia (399 touches in three seasons). 

Because the Raiders still have questions at quarterback, look for them to rely on the rushing attack early and often in 2024.

Bengals running back Chase Brown runs away from a tackle
Kansas City Chiefs DE Charles Omenihu (90) tackles Cincinnati Bengals RB Chase Brown (30).

Chase Brown, Cincinnati Bengals

The Cincinnati Bengals’ backfield will look very different this season with Joe Mixon off to Houston. Mixon racked up 913 touches, 4,184 yards from scrimmage and 37 touchdowns in the last three seasons. He was the Bengals' clear-cut workhorse back, but they moved on after seven quality seasons.

One of the biggest reasons the Bengals traded Mixon was because they needed more juice in their backfield. As good as Mixon was, he was never a home-run hitter. Last season, he had just three carries that gained 19 or more yards. 

That’s not good enough in today’s NFL.

The player who benefits the most from Mixon leaving is Chase Brown, a Day 3 pick from the 2023 NFL Draft. Brown recorded two carries in the first 12 weeks of the season. However, from Week 13 on, he saw significantly more work as the Bengals reshaped their offense with Jake Browning under center.

In those final six games, Brown had 53 touches and racked up 322 yards (6.07 yards per touch). While his efficiency as a runner was only average, he created several chunk plays as an outlet receiver, including a 54-yard touchdown against the Colts. 

Brown is an incredibly explosive athlete who should be used in space as much as possible. He shouldn’t handle 20-plus touches a game, but that’s why Cincinnati signed Zack Moss to do the heavy lifting on early downs. 

Brown should be schemed into the offensive game plan every week because he is such a dynamic weapon. With so many teams focused on stopping Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, Brown could be highly effective as an underneath receiver. 

Look for the Bengals to ramp up his workload in Year 2 and make him a regular part of the offense.

Commanders running back Brian Robinson runs the ball
Washington Commanders RB Brian Robinson Jr. (8) runs for yards after the catch against the Seattle Seahawks during the fourth quarter at Lumen Field. (Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports.)

Brian Robinson Jr., Washington Commanders

It's hard to call a running back who totaled 1,100 yards and scored nine touchdowns last year a "breakout candidate" for the coming season, but that's the case with Brian Robinson Jr.

After a solid rookie season, Robinson became the unquestioned starter in Washington and improved all of his metrics.

The Washington Commanders reshaped their offense, moving on from offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy in favor of Kliff Kingsbury. The team also traded Sam Howell and selected Jayden Daniels with the No. 2 overall pick in this year's draft.

The coaching change and the quarterback switch should greatly benefit Robinson, as the Commanders' offense was one of the NFL’s least efficient in 2023. 

Kingsbury loves to run the ball near the goal line, and we saw that in play in 2021 when James Conner had 18 touchdowns in 15 games. Conner wasn't even the starting running back for the Cardinals yet produced a Pro Bowl season. Kingsbury favors a balanced approach despite using an Air Raid offense. 

Robinson isn't that different from Conner, but he is much more explosive and could post huge numbers in 2024. If Daniels can keep defenses honest with his arm and legs, that should open up more rushing lanes.

Austin Ekeler was signed to help with some of the passing game work, but he shouldn’t affect Robinson’s rushing production. Everything is lined up for Robinson to have a massive season for the Commanders.

Cowboys RB Rico Dowdle runs with the ball
Dallas Cowboys RB Rico Dowdle (23) carries the ball past Washington Commanders safety Terrell Burgess (32) during the second half at FedExField. (Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports.)

Rico Dowdle, Dallas Cowboys

To the surprise of many, the Dallas Cowboys did not do much at the running back position this offseason. And they allowed Tony Pollard to sign a modest contract with the Tennessee Titans. 

What was more surprising was that Dallas did not draft a running back last month. Just a few days after the draft, they re-signed Ezekiel Elliott after he spent one year with the Patriots.

It's not a shock that the Cowboys haven't spent much money on their running back room this offseason. That was clearly the plan going into the offseason after years of being at the top of the league in cash spent at running back. However, not adding a fresh face has many people questioning the team’s plan.

The Cowboys might have ignored running back in the draft due to Rico Dowdle, who they re-signed this year on a one-year deal. Dowdle is a long-time favorite of the coaching staff and the front office, but injuries have limited his role. 

Dowdle signed with the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2020 but had just seven carries from 2020 to 2022. He missed the entire 2021 season due to a neck injury, and his return to football wasn't guaranteed.

But Dowdle overcame his injury and played in all 16 games in 2023, serving as Pollard’s primary backup. While Dowdle didn’t receive much work (106 total touches), he was productive when on the field.

Dowdle has good size (6-foot, 215 pounds) and runs with violence and power. He’s not the most dynamic running back, but he can get to the second level quickly and punish linebackers and safeties. 

The Cowboys aren’t expecting Dowdle to be their workhorse back in 2024, but it wouldn’t be a shock if he led the team in touches. Elliott will serve as the short-yardage back and help out in pass protection. But Dowdle will handle a lot of the heavy lifting on early downs. 

Dowdle couldn’t be in a better situation going into the 2024 season. He is on an offense that finished No. 1 in scoring last season (29.9 PPG) and has been consistently good whenever Dak Prescott is on the field. If Dowdle stays healthy, he should post 1,000 yards and be a key cog for one of the NFC’s best teams. It won’t be surprising if the running back questions disappear once more people see Dowdle in a lead role. 

He isn't a household name yet, but he will be.