NFL Draft Notebook, Part 2: How quickly will rookie RBs (and Brock Bowers) make a fantasy football impact?

In the second of a two-part series, Dalton Del Don reveals his fantasy football expectations for members of the 2024 NFL Draft class, with today’s focus on the running backs (and a hyped tight end). Go here for Part 1.

Benson can be a fantasy difference-maker as a rookie despite his modest draft capital. He forced the most missed tackles per touch in 2022 since the stat has been recorded. He joins an Arizona offense that was a top-10 unit over the second half of last season before adding rookie force, Marvin Harrison Jr. There’s little competition behind James Conner, who’s 29 years old, coming off the second-highest workload of his career and has averaged 3.6 missed games over the last five seasons.

Conner has never played a full season or eclipsed 215 carries during any of his seven years in the NFL, and it’s possible Benson straight-up outplays him at this stage of their careers. The Cardinals quietly had the fourth-best EPA/rush last season, so Arizona’s lead back is in a terrific situation. With a nice power/speed combo, Benson has top-10 RB fantasy upside if/when he gets a chance to take over Arizona’s backfield.

Benson will require patience, but I’ll be drafting him as a top-25 fantasy RB.

Brooks would’ve been drafted higher if he wasn’t returning from ACL surgery, and he may also require some patience from fantasy managers. Brooks is more talented than Chuba Hubbard and Miles Sanders and should have no trouble supplanting both once he’s fully healthy. However, the Panthers have no reason to rush the rookie, and Carolina is far from an ideal landing spot. Hopefully, new coach Dave Canales turns things around, but the Panthers got by far the fewest yards per play (5.1) in the NFL last season.

Carolina added Diontae Johnson and Xavier Legette, but Bryce Young could remain a real problem. Still, Hubbard was the No. 9 fantasy back over the final seven weeks last season, so Brooks will have real value once he eventually takes over the role. His ACL tear was clean, and Brooks is on track to be cleared for training camp.

Carolina will limit his upside as a rookie, but Brooks can pass protect and will have an opportunity to be a workhorse over the second half of the season. He should be drafted as a top-30 fantasy RB.

Corum isn’t an elite athlete and profiles similarly to Kyren Williams. Sean McVay loves using a featured back, but the draft pick is another reason to avoid Williams at his lofty ADP. Williams was placed on IR midseason last year and then suffered a hand injury that required surgery during LA’s wild-card loss. He also sustained a serious high-ankle sprain during the first play of his NFL career during a kickoff. It’s probably safe to say Williams has a heightened injury risk to go along with his struggles as a receiver, so Corum is likely to get an opportunity at some point.

Williams looks like an incredibly risky early round fantasy pick given his profile, the number of injuries he’s suffered and the addition of the rookie.

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Corum, meanwhile, was incredibly productive in college, scoring a whopping 47 touchdowns over his final two years at Michigan. There are negatives, however, including some staggeringly low missed tackle and yards after contact numbers after suffering a torn meniscus. Moreover, nearly every touchdown Corum scored came inside the 5-yard line. Of course, that goal-line success could also lead to the rookie stealing red-zone work from Williams, which would be a fantasy disaster.

Corum’s limitations are less of a concern given a similar Williams was the No. 2 fantasy back (per game) in this system behind only Christian McCaffrey last season. The Rams got the most yards per play when their offense was fully healthy last year, and Los Angeles produced the second-highest EPA/rush on the season.

Corum lands in a situation with a path to a ton of fantasy upside, so he should be the third rookie RB drafted despite his underwhelming profile.

Wright ran a 4.38 40 and landed in a Miami system that produced NFL-highs in YPC (5.1) and rushing touchdowns (27). He’s a similar athlete to Reggie Bush, only 10 pounds heavier, and Wright has more potential as a receiver than his college stats might suggest. Raheem Mostert will turn 32 years old soon and broke 200 carries (219) for the first time in his career last season. Meanwhile, De’Von Achane might be the only player in the league who’s as big of an injury risk as Mostert.

Wright only has fourth-round draft capital, but he’s an explosive back in a terrific situation behind two of the bigger injury risks in the league. He’s my No. 4 rookie RB.

Lloyd is the favorite to become Green Bay’s RB2, as AJ Dillon has become one of the least productive backs in the league. Newcomer Josh Jacobs also struggled last season, but he dealt with the highest number of defenders in the box and is set to become the Packers’ lead back. Lloyd committed a whopping 11 fumbles over 291 career touches in college and has questions in pass protection, so he’s a flawed prospect who needs to develop. But Lloyd also has intriguing potential and can break tackles, and the Packers have one of the league’s most exciting young offenses. He’s a top-five rookie dynasty back.

Jacobs essentially signed a one-year deal, so there’s a path to Lloyd becoming Green Bay’s lead back in 2025 if the rookie impresses.

Guerendo ran the fastest 40 time (4.33) among running backs this year and has the second-best Relative Athletic Score among 1,745 RBs since 1987. That’s De’Von Achane speed but at 30+ pounds heavier. DK Metcalf and Guerendo are the only two prospects in the last 20 years to weigh that much and run that fast.

Guerendo had limited college production, and the 49ers have traded up for an RB with an elite Speed Score (Guerendo ranked first) before … only to have them not play an NFL snap. San Francisco also has a poor recent track record drafting mid-round running backs (Trey Sermon, Tyrion Davis-Price), so Guerendo is hardly a sure thing.

Still, this is an incredible athlete who was blocked behind talent in college and could easily grow in the NFL with the help of Bobby Turner. The 49ers led the NFL in RB rush yards last season, and Christian McCaffrey led the league in touchdowns, so Shanahan’s system remains the best for fantasy backs. McCaffrey had 417 touches last year, and Elijah Mitchell (who’s in the final year of his contract) has been the league’s most injury-prone player since entering the NFL.

Guerendo is one of this year’s best late-round fliers in fantasy drafts.

Vidal landed on a Chargers team that drafted LT Joe Alt over Malik Nabers and wants to run the ball under Jim Harbaugh. The Chargers lost 87% of their 2023 RB rush attempts in free agency, and Gus Edwards will soon be 29 years old. Edwards could also see his YPC plummet away from Lamar Jackson, and J.K. Dobbins is attempting to return from a torn Achilles. Vidal is short but a good athlete who was productive in college, and LA appears to love the rookie back. With so few weapons at receiver and Justin Herbert at QB, Vidal’s explosiveness will be a welcome addition.

The Chargers project to have one of the league’s easiest schedules and have one of the NFL’s thinnest running back rooms, so Vidal has real fantasy upside as a rookie.

Davis becomes a backup with fantasy upside in Buffalo. James Cook ranked top five in yards per touch (5.6) last season, but his fantasy value was limited thanks to getting just two carries inside the 5-yard line after Week 4. Cook didn’t rank top-20 among backs in red-zone touches, and Davis projects to take over at the goal line in 2024. Latavius Murray had the 12th-most RB carries inside the 5 last year despite Josh Allen stealing 14 of them, so the rookie could reach double-digit touchdowns.

Cook will have a hard time living up to his current RB14 expert consensus ranking in 0.5 PPR leagues while likely continuing to lose short touchdowns.

Bowers is likely the best tight end prospect in college football history, but Las Vegas was undoubtedly a rough landing spot for his fantasy value. The Raiders have one of the league’s worst QB situations, a true alpha at wide receiver and just drafted a tight end with a top-40 pick last year. Bowers will get to play indoors, and hopefully Michael Mayer handles most of the blocking while Bowers sees plenty of slot action, but Las Vegas managed the sixth-fewest yards per play last season; Gardner Minshew is unlikely to be much of an upgrade over Aidan O’Connell — if at all.

Bowers looks like a unicorn capable of making an immediate impact in any situation, but he’ll be competing for looks with Davante Adams (who finished second in the league in targets and target share last season) from a bottom-five QB. The tight end position appears uncharacteristically strong entering 2024, so Bowers is unlikely to star at the position right away like Sam LaPorta did in last year’s rookie class.

Still, Bowers should be drafted as a top-12 fantasy tight end despite landing in a less-than-ideal situation in Las Vegas.

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