2024 NFL Draft Preview: The Musical Chairs at Running Back

By Scott Kacsmar

The 2024 NFL draft does not figure to be a strong class for running backs, especially at the top as none are expected to go in the first round. It was just last year that a pair of backs went in the first round in Bijan Robinson (Falcons) and Jahmyr Gibbs (Lions). But that does not mean there are no prospects who will get plenty of attention on Day 2 of the draft.

However, we are coming off an unprecedented NFL free-agency period where so many of the league’s top running backs changed teams as free agents. That will play a big factor in which teams are in the market for a new running back in this year’s draft, but at least it is a position where you can add depth as most teams have adopted the committee approach to the running game. No back carried the ball more than 280 times last year, something that had not been done in a non-strike season since 1974.

Using the prospect rankings for running backs from the NFL Mock Draft Database, we are looking at the top 4 players this year who could go in the top 75 picks, and which teams would be the best fit for them.

Before we get to the prospects, we are looking back at the incredible number of changes at running back for the 2024 NFL season.

The Musical Chairs at Running Back in the 2024 NFL Season

We have to highlight how much the running back position has moved around this season like a game of musical chairs. More than a third of the league was directly involved in this:

  • The Titans lost Derrick Henry to the Ravens but gained Tony Pollard from the Cowboys.
  • The Packers let Aaron Jones go to the Vikings and added Josh Jacobs from the Raiders, who added Alexander Mattison to the backfield.
  • The Giants lost Saquon Barkley to the Eagles, who sent D’Andre Swift to the Bears, and the Giants brought in Devin Singletary from the Texans.
  • The Texans added Joe Mixon from Cincinnati, and the Bengals responded by bringing in Zack Moss from the Colts.
  • The Chargers lost Austin Ekeler to the Commanders, and they brought in Gus Edwards, a former running back of new coordinator Greg Roman in Baltimore.

Somehow, three full divisions (NFC West, NFC South, and AFC East) avoided this major game of musical chairs, and they should all return their preferred lead back from 2023:

  • Christian McCaffrey (49ers)
  • Kenneth Walker (Seahawks)
  • Kyren Williams (Rams)
  • James Conner (Cardinals)
  • Bijan Robinson (Falcons)
  • Rachaad White (Buccaneers)
  • Alvin Kamara (Saints)
  • Chuba Hubbard (Panthers)
  • James Cook (Bills)
  • Raheem Mostert (Dolphins)
  • Breece Hall (Jets)
  • Rhamondre Stevenson (Patriots)

In addition to those 12 teams, the Chiefs (Isiah Pacheco), Steelers (Najee Harris/Jaylen Warren), Broncos (Javonte Williams), Jaguars (Travis Etienne), Colts (Jonathan Taylor), and Lions (David Montgomery/Jahmyr Gibbs) should all feel content with the backs they have leading the way in 2024. Cleveland will also be happy to get a healthy Nick Chubb back.

But from this list of moves, you can see the Cowboys were the main team that did not bother to replace their loss in free agency. They have Rico Dowdle and Deuce Vaughn at the top of the running back depth chart right now. Should Dallas be the heavy favorite for a top back in the 2024 draft?

Let’s look at the prospects.

1. Jonathon Brooks (Texas) – No. 56 Overall Prospect

We have a fairly close race for the consensus-best running back in this year’s draft between Jonathon Brooks (Texas) and Trey Benson (Florida State). Brooks gets the nod as No. 1 from more draft analysts, including Bucky Brooks and PFF.

With Brooks, you’re getting an explosive back with little tread on the tire. He only had 238 carries at Texas, and 187 of those came last year when he still averaged 6.1 yards per rush and scored 10 touchdowns on the ground. He also caught 25 passes for 286 yards and another touchdown, so he has some receiving ability as well.

Brooks has been compared to former Texas and NFL great Jamaal Charles as speed backs. The only real concern here is that Brooks tore his ACL last November, so he is coming back from a significant injury that takes many months to recover, and many times that next season performance after the injury isn’t up to par.

But many players, including running backs, have come back from an ACL tear to have productive careers, and he is young without a lot of mileage. He should go in the second round of this draft.

Best Fit – No. 56 Dallas Cowboys

When we listed teams from three divisions above that were bringing their lead rushers back for 2024, the obvious weak link on that list was Carolina with Chuba Hubbard. They weren’t getting anything out of Miles Sanders either last year, but that was more about the offensive line. The Panthers have picks No. 33 and No. 39, but they have far more pressing needs than a running back.

In theory, you could see the Giants (No. 47 pick) and Bengals (No. 49 pick) consider Brooks as they may not be that content with the depth they have left after losing Saquon Barkley and Joe Mixon. But both would probably be better off taking another swing at an offensive lineman or maybe a wide receiver.

The team to like here is Dallas at No. 56, a pick you couldn’t argue with using on what the majority of people are calling the best running back prospect in the draft. Brooks can slip right into the lead back role, has three-down potential, and he would fit a Mike McCarthy-coached offense well with his speed.

The Cowboys have a very good roster without many holes, so they could more than afford to make this pick in this round. Keep Brooks in Texas.

2. Trey Benson (Florida State) – No. 61 Overall Prospect

Trey Benson never caught on at Oregon (2020-21), but a transfer to Florida State led to him rushing for over 900 yards in back-to-back seasons while averaging 6.1 yards per carry. He scored 24 touchdowns since 2022.

Benson has the frame to be a physical runner in the NFL, but he has some receiving ability, and he scored as the No. 3 prospect athletically at the combine according to the official NFL site’s draft analysis, which also ranked him as the No. 1 overall running back prospect this year.

Best Fit – No. 65 Carolina Panthers

Some of the teams we mentioned above for Brooks also apply here as landing spots for Benson (Giants, Bengals, Cowboys). But we already explained the Panthers could use an upgrade, and the first pick in the third round would be solid value for Benson.

He could compliment Hubbard in that offense as he has the speed to hit explosive runs and enough power to be a consistent runner instead of a boom-or-bust back.

If Benson slips past the Panthers at 65, he shouldn’t last past the Giants at No. 70 as they could be looking at him as their real Saquon replacement as a potential workhorse at the next level.

3. Blake Corum (Michigan) – No. 72 Overall Prospect

Blake Corum is the draft’s little bowling ball at running back. He is only 5’8”, but he can run through defenders, and he showed great durability at Michigan where he had 675 carries for 3,737 yards in his four seasons.

You want someone to finish in the red zone/ Corum scored 61 touchdowns in college, including 28 last year alone on the way to a national championship. In the title game against Washington, Corum had one of his best games with 134 yards and 2 touchdowns.

He caught 56 passes in his career, but a volume runner with good instincts is what you’re mainly getting here.

Best Fit – No. 69 Los Angeles Chargers

Wouldn’t it be nice if this worked out? No one should know Corum better than Jim Harbaugh, his coach at Michigan. He’s now the coach of the Chargers, and they let go of Austin Ekeler, a superb receiving back. Corum cannot touch him in that regard, but he can make for a fun pair of downhill runners with Gus Edwards.

We know Corum would be a good fit for a Harbaugh offense, and in turn, a Greg Roman offense. We’ll see if they pull the trigger at No. 69, but this would be one of the most logical pairings in the draft early in the third round.

4. Jaylen Wright (Tennessee) – No. 76 Overall Prospect

Jaylen Wright has some amazing straight-line speed as he averaged 7.4 yards per carry at Tennessee last year. But would this translate well to the NFL if he’s asked to play in a more run-oriented offense that faces heavier boxes?

The good news in a graphic like that is that Wright still averaged over 6.0 yards per carry when facing a heavy box of 7 or more defenders. The only issue is he faced those heavy boxes on fewer than 30% of his runs, a far cry from the other backs in this class.

But in the right scheme and in the open field, Wright can be a special runner. He also has receiving upside if used properly.

Best Fit – No. 77 Las Vegas Raiders

If the Raiders are going to transform under Antonio Pierce into a run-heavy offense and defensive-led team, they probably need a better backfield than Zamir White, Alexander Mattison, and Ameer Abdullah.

Wright would be that change of pace back and home-run hitter for them. The Raiders are stuck in a tough division where you have to outscore Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert four times a year, to say nothing of the other great quarterbacks in the AFC.

The Raiders have a long history of drafting players built on speed and athleticism, but using a third-round pick on a back like Wright would be a low-risk proposition with a potentially solid return. Remember, he won’t need to be the lead back and get 20 carries a game. Just give him enough touches to make an impact each week.

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