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6 Darkhorse RB1 Candidates for Fantasy Football in 2024

Selecting the player in Fantasy Football who finisheds first overall at their position can give you a substantial edge in your league. These players are sometimes obvious choices but other times they can be major surprises. Take Christian McCaffrey for example. He had an ADP of RB1 prior to the 2023 season and finished as the RB1 by the end of it. The top drafted running back, finished as the top Fantasy productive running back. On the other hand, Jonathan Taylor had a pre-season ADP of RB10 back in 2021 but finished as the #1 running back in Fantasy Points scored at the end of the season.

Sometimes we feel there is an obvious choice for who will score the most Fantasy Points for their position, and they do. Other times someone else comes out of nowhere and does that instead. Anything can happen in Fantasy Football with a long list of variables, so identifying “Darkhorse” candidates to finish at the top of their position can be key in helping you win.

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It is vital to define terms individually for Fantasy Football, as these terms may have different meanings depending on the content creator. When referencing a “Darkhorse RB1,” I mean a running back that most people would not consider a candidate to finish as the best running back in Fantasy Football but has that range of potential outcomes. These are players who will not be universally ranked and drafted towards the top of the position but could finish at the top.

Your obvious candidates to finish as the RB1 in 2024 based on current ADP and consensus value are Christian McCaffreyBijan Robinson, and Breece Hall. The below list of players consists of other running backs who will be drafted after this group but have the potential to finish at the top for Fantasy Football in 2024.

History of the RB1 for Fantasy Football

Before diving into the names of who can be a “Darkhorse RB1” candidate for 2024, it is important to look at what it takes to actually be the RB1 historically. The chart below shows the RB1s from the last 10 seasons in total Fantasy Points scored

Historical RB1s

The average season of these historical RB1s is 267 rushing attempts, 1,277 rushing yards, 4.78 yards per carry, 13.5 rushing touchdowns, 104 targets, 80.4 receptions, 722.7 receiving yards, 4.3 receiving touchdowns, and 24.25 Fantasy PPG over the last 10 seasons.

The data set shows a variety of ways were able to be RB1, though. Take Alvin Kamara in 2020, who rushed for just 932 yards. His 83 receptions for 756 receiving yards gave him the boost to make up for the lower rushing total.

In 2021, Jonathan Taylor only caught half of the average receptions but rushed for  1,811 yards (the highest in this sample) and scored 20 total touchdowns. If a running back was lacking in one area, they made up for it elsewhere. Your typical dual-threat running back who can produce both on the ground and through the air is the most likely candidate to have a chance at finishing as the RB1, and if a player does not profile as being productive in both sets of categories then they need to truly excel either on the ground or through the air.

Variables will be health, team scheme, offensive-line quality, volume, touch competition, running back skillset, and other factors. After looking at what it takes to finish as the RB1, and then scanning the running back landscape for 2024, here are my Darkhorse RB1 candidates:

6 Darkhorse RB1 Candidates for Fantasy Football in 2024

Saquon Barkley, Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles made a power move this off-season by bringing in Saquon Barkley on a three-year, $37.75 million deal. The Eagles have felt like a true contender for the Super Bowl the last few seasons, but have fallen just short. Philly could have looked at the 49ers Super Bowl trip this past season, and the impact Christian McCaffrey had on their run as a do-it-all, playmaking running back. Then went and tried to do the same by bringing in Saquon Barkley.

Saquon Barkley was once regarded as a generational prospect. Selected second overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, Barkley would finish his rookie season rushing for 1,307 yards and catching a rookie-record 91 passes for 721 receiving yards. 15 total touchdowns, and 24.0 Fantasy PPG (#3). Fantasy managers immediately believed Barkley was a top-two option for Fantasy Football moving forward. Barkley played 13, two, and 13 games over the next three seasons while battling injuries. A major bounce-back occurred in 2022, with Barkley rushing for a career-high 1,312 yards. Across the last two seasons, Barkley has scored 10 touchdowns in both of them, and finished #9 (2023) and #5 (2022) in Fantasy PPG with 15.9 and 17.8. A move to Philadelphia means going to the best situation he has ever been in.

Miles Sanders rushed for a career-high 1,269 yards with the Eagles back in 2022. D’Andre Swift became the starter in 2023, and rushed for a career-high 1,049. Barkley, now an Eagle, could follow the same trend in 2024 behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, even with Jason Kelce retiring. The Eagles are a powerful offense, featuring Jalen Hurts, AJ Brown, Devonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert. Historically there were all eyes from defenses on Saquon in New York, but with these playmakers, defenses are kept honest. Barkley’s ceiling as a rusher will be huge, he is always a candidate to catch 40-50+ balls and he can potentially score the most touchdowns of his career. Barkley has historically been Fantasy dominant and can have a major season with the Eagles in 2024.

Jonathan Taylor, Colts

Jonathan Taylor opened up his NFL career in 2020 rushing for 1,169 yards, catching 36 balls for 299 yards, and scoring 12 total touchdowns which resulted in him averaging 16.9 Fantasy PPG (#8). The sophomore season would be an explosion, as the RB1 for Fantasy Football. In 2021, the #1 and Jonathan Taylor were tightly tied, and he finished for the position first in:

  • Rushing attempts – 332
  • Red zone touches – 92
  • Rushing yards – 1,811
  • Total touchdowns – 20
  • Juke rate – 44.4%
  • Evaded tackles – 165
  • Breakaway runs – 23
  • Yards created – 1,382
  • Fantasy PPG – 22

Taylor checked all of the major boxes in 2021 for being an elite rusher and even added 40 receptions for 360 receiving yards to that total. Monster season. What has been disappointing is that Taylor has missed time in both of the seasons that followed the explosive year. His 21 total games played, and not all of those at 100%, impacted his statistics and limited his Fantasy Football production so much that people seem to have forgotten his major season, and even his respectable rookie year.

In 2023, despite it being a shortened season we still saw the rushing upside in Taylor. 75 rushing yards and a touchdown in Week 7, 95 rushing yards in Week 8, 91 rushing yards and two touchdowns in Week 12, 96 rushing yards and a touchdown in Week 17, and then a massive 188 rushing yards and a touchdown in Week 18. Taylor actually rushed for six touchdowns across his final five games played in 2023.

The Colts continue to build their offense. They selected Anthony Richardson in the 2023 NFL Draft with the fourth overall pick to be their franchise guy, who is a true playmaker. Michael Pittman Jr. has operated as the alpha of the system. Young wide receivers in sophomore Josh Downs and rookie Adonai Mitchell will play very distinct roles that add a ton to the offense. This is a sneaky good offense, that can find themselves in plenty of scoring opportunities in 2024. A full season of Taylor operating as the workhorse for the Colts, as he has in the past, could mean another Fantasy dominant season. There are not many backs who I feel have a higher rushing yard ceiling than Taylor, who is an easy candidate to lead the league in rushing yards. Taylor has a true nose for the end zone, and is a competent pass-catcher. True workhorse running back, who has already had an overall RB1 season on his resume. 2024 could be the second one.

Derrick Henry, Ravens

The Fantasy Gods blessed us with King Henry getting signed by the Ravens this off-season on a two-year, $16 million deal. Henry rushed for 1,167 yards in 2023, which marked his fifth season over 1,000 rushing yards. Henry has finished two seasons with 1,538 (2022) and 1,539 (2019) yards in the past, but his 2020 season totaling 2,027 rushing yards ranks as the fifth highest ever. Henry has also scored double-digit touchdowns for six straight seasons, ranging from 10-18. When it comes to rushing upside, Henry has been the epitome of just that, which is scary to think about what he can do in Baltimore in 2024.

The Ravens led the NFL in rushing attempts this past season with 541. The run game has been a clear emphasis, which is a major plus for Henry. The Ravens also led the league with 2,611 rushing yards which was 212 more than any other team in 2023. 26 rushing touchdowns ranked fourth in the NFL. Gus Edwards alone rushed for 13 of those touchdowns, who is now a Charger and a running back consensus would say is far behind Derrick Henry as a talent. 13 rushing touchdowns and 26 team touchdowns are scary numbers to think about when you project forward to what Henry could possibly do in 2024.

That 2021 Jonathan Taylor season stands out to be when looking back at the RB1 overall data from the past 10 seasons. 1,811 rushing yards paired with 20 total touchdowns. Is this sort of season in the realm of possibilities for Derrick Henry? 2023 did not show signs of slowing down, with Henry clocked as the eighth fastest ball-carrier on a 69-yard rush clocked in at 21.68 mph. Henry has finished three seasons with over 1,500 rushing yards with that major one over 2,000. Henry has finished seasons with 17 (2020) and 18 (2019) total touchdowns. The Ravens give Henry the perfect chance to have an RB1 overall season if he can hit a heavy yardage total and lead the league in touchdowns in 2024.

Travis Etienne Jr, Jaguars

Travis Etienne Jr took a leap forward in Fantasy production in 2023, largely due to the increase in his role as a pass-catcher along with touchdown production. Etienne did rush for more yards as a rookie in 2022 with 1,125, in comparison to his 1,008 in 2023. Etienne was far more efficient on the ground as a rookie, averaging 5.1 yards per carry compared to 3.8 this season. 58 receptions in 2023 was a nice jump from the 35 from his rookie year, with 476 receiving yards another upgrade over the 316 yards the year prior as well. Etienne more than doubled his touchdowns in 2023 with 12 after scoring just five as a rookie. 16.6 Fantasy PPG ranked seventh in 2023, which was the most significant upgrade for us that focus on the Fantasy vs. 12.1 (#23) as a rookie. Etienne finished 2023 with the third most total Fantasy Points, which does not seem like something many have credited him this off-season.

While Etienne may not have been the most efficient on a yards-per-carry flat look, he did evade the fourth-most tackles (69) and create the fourth-most yards (1,080) for the position. 267 carries ranked sixth, 73 targets ranked seventh, Etienne’s 75.7% opportunity share ranked sixth and his 74.3% snap share ranked sixth as well. So we saw a running back who was the feature of his offense, touched the ball plenty, displayed playmaking abilities, produced statistically and it all directly impacted Fantasy Football.

Etienne should continue to operate as the Jaguars feature out of the backfield in 2024, with guaranteed weekly volume. What needs to happen for a RB1 overall finish is the yardage on the ground to go back up to similar numbers or higher to Etienne’s rookie season, the receiving numbers to slightly improve and him to continue trending up in touchdowns. Whenever you see a leap in Fantasy production in a sophomore season, for any position, this could certainly be a green flag for a continued trend up. If Etienne trends up across the board he can fight for the RB1 overall finish.

Josh Jacobs, Packers

I always will have a spicy pick for these Darkhorse articles, and Josh Jacobs feels to be just that in this one. A lot of people are down on Jacobs after the 2023 season he played just 13 games in. Jacobs averaged 13.9 Fantasy PPG which ranked 18th and meant not benefiting managers to meet expectations. This was especially disappointing after seeing the huge season Jacobs was coming off of.

In 2022, Josh Jacobs led the league in rushing yards with 1,653. Jacobs was the definition of a workhorse, totaling 393 touches and ranking first in opportunity share (83.7%). Jacobs evaded the second most tackles (123) and created the most yards (1,233) which showed his true playmaking abilities. Jacobs scored the third most total Fantasy Points, and averaged the third most as well at 19.3 PPG. True breakout season, and signs that “hey, this guy CAN have a major Fantasy season”.

Josh Jacobs was signed this off-season by the Green Bay Packers to a four-year, $48 million deal. This is a fantastic environment change when comparing the two offenses this past season. The Packers totaled the 11th most total yards, compared to the Raiders who produced the sixth least total yards. The Packers scored the 12th most total points, compared to the Raiders who scored the 10th least total points. Jacobs will replace Aaron Jones, who is now a Viking and finished each of his final five games as a Packer with over 100 rushing yards.

The Packers’ offense looked great in Jordan Love’s first season as a starter, and this was a phenomenal landing spot for Jacobs in my opinion. You do not fluke a 1,653 yard rushing season. Jacobs has finished three seasons over 1,000 yards and has caught 53/54 passes in two seasons as well. This is a dual-threat running back who can thrive in the right environment, which I believe Green Bay is. Jacobs is a candidate to again lead the league in rushing, and we know the history of Aaron Jones being used as a pass-catcher so this is a major boost to Jacobs. I do not fear rookies Marshawn Lloyd or AJ Dillon as threats to Jacobs’ workload, but more so insurance pieces and guys to give the newcomer rest. If Jacobs can mirror his 2022 season, but in a better system, his ceiling is higher than people credit.

Alvin Kamara, Saints

Maybe another spicy take here, but I wanted to include Alvin Kamara in this list because of his 2023 partial season and history for Fantasy Football. 28.9 years old makes Kamara an unlikely candidate, but the pass-catching upside has always a separator of his from other running backs. Historically Kamara for Fantasy Football:

  • 17.9 PPG (#3) in 2023
  • 14.1 PPG (#13) in 2022
  • 18.1 PPG (#4) in 2021
  • 25.2 PPG (#1) in 2020
  • 17.8 PPG (#8) in 2019
  • 23.2 PPG (#4) in 2018
  • 19.5 PPG (#4) in 2017

Fantasy Points and Alvin Kamara go hand-in-hand. Why? Kamara has had one of the highest pass-catching ceilings since entering the league. Four seasons over 80 receptions and three seasons over 700 receiving yards makes this clear. The ceiling on the ground has never been super high, but Kamara has finished with four seasons of 883-932 rushing yards. Kamars has also had major touchdown seasons with 18 total in 2018 and 21 total in 2020.

In 2023, Kamara played just 13 games, but what he did in those 13 was unreal. Kamara was a top 10 Fantasy running back in seven of his games played, with four weeks scoring 21+ Fantasy Points. Kamara finished second in receptions on the year with 75, which should be shocking seeing that he only played 13 games. Kamara averaged 5.8 receptions and 53.4 receiving yards last season.

There was a drop-off in production as the season went on, but the spike weeks should not be ignored for 2024. The receiving numbers should not be ignored either when looking at 2024. The Saints did not add notable receiving weapons this off-season, which makes me feel that Kamara will continue to be one of the features through the air for this offense. If Kamara plays a full-season with similar usage in 2024, the ceiling is very high for Fantasy Football.

Why not _________?

You will notice I left off names such as Jahmyr Gibbs, De’Von Achane, and Kyren Williams. Why? I feel their running back rooms will cap their overall ceiling to finish as the RB1. David Montgomery will continue to have a big role in Detroit (Gibbs), Raheem Mostert and rookie Jaylen Wright can create a committee workload (Achane) and I am higher than most on the idea Blake Corum touches the ball plenty his rookie season (Kyren).

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