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Fantasy Football: Round 2-3 running backs to target and avoid in your drafts from James Cook to Derrick Henry

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One of my favorite aspects of working with Fantasy Football Today is how often and early we get both the mock drafts and real drafts rolling prior to the start of a Fantasy Football (and NFL season). We’ve had mocks running from before and after the 2024 NFL Draft and now we’re starting to accrue some data on ADP (average draft position) trends, the sweet spots in every round, and strategies that will determine roster builds for the coming season.

One concept that has been discussed on the Fantasy Football Today podcast at length is the surprising uncertainty in the second and third rounds of early Fantasy drafts. Earlier, we discussed the Rounds 2-3 wide receivers and who to potentially target and avoid. On FFT, the guys dove into which running backs they are targeting from that range and Adam ranked those second and third-round receivers in order for PPR formats. We’ll dive into some of those key takeaways on each running back selected in this range.

Cook finds himself ranked RB10 by our current consensus (Jamey, Dave and Heath) after a strong finish to the 2023 season once Joe Brady took over play-calling duties for the Bills. Cook rushed for 1,122 yards on 237 carries with just two rushing touchdowns in 2023. If we’re to assume that Cook will see some positive regression from a rushing touchdowns standpoint, he could present an excellent value in 2024 drafts. However, Cook did not have a single carry on 3rd and 4th and 1 in 2023 and the Bills just drafted Ray Davis to potentially fill the short-yardage role. In addition, the Bills don’t typically run the football in the red zone and when they do, quarterback Josh Allen is sometimes the priority.ย 

Cook, however, made up for it by converting four of his 44 receptions into receiving touchdowns. He was on a 53-catch pace with Brady calling the plays.

It was truly a tale of two seasons for Cook who racked up 17, 16, 10, 25, 20, 16 and 13 carries over his final seven games, respectively. If you prorate his pace playing with Brady as his playcaller over a 17-game season, Cook would’ve finished with 1,231 yards rushing, 542 receiving and nine total touchdowns. We discussed earlier how the Bills haven’t featured their running backs in the red zone, but Cook racked up 21 carries inside the 5-yard line in 2023 — eighth-most in the NFL. That was another key change under Brady as offensive coordinator.ย 

Faith in Cook comes down to belief that his receiving production won’t fall off — or that the rushing touchdowns will rise to make up for it. Cook finished averaging the 19th-most Fantasy points per game in 2023 among running backs and is being drafted just inside the top 10 at the position.

Pachecho finds himself in the RB15 range of our consensus rankings with Jamey, Dave, and Heath ranking him RB16, RB15 and RB15. Injuries played a factor in Pacheco’s 2023 season, but over a 17-game pace, he was on track for 1,135 rushing yards with eighth rushing touchdowns in addition to 296 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns. He can easily pay back his consensus ranking if he puts together a full season at that pace. Pacheco started to get a lot of work down the stretch with 18 or more carries in six of his last nine games including four postseason games. He also saw a spike in targets when Jerick McKinnon was out of the lineup, however, his passing game role is questionable — he averaged 2.9 targets per game with McKinnon and five targets per game in four regular-season games without him. The Chiefs have since added first-round wide receiversย Xavier Worthy and Marquise Brown. After a historically poor passing season for Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs pass game, it’s reasonable to assume some positive regression on that front. If more of those red zone opportunities turn to passing touchdowns, Pacheco could struggle to reach his ceiling in 2024, but he seems locked in as a high-floor RB2.

White was one of Fantasy Football’s biggest breakouts in 2023 in large part due to his role — heavy volume — specifically in the passing game. White enters 2024 ranked as FFT’s consensus RB6 with very few question marks about his upcoming role and not much competition outside of Day 3 2024 rookie draft pick Bucky Irving and second-year former UDFA Sean Tucker. White averaged just 3.6 yards per carry and was near the bottom of the NFL in rushing efficiency metrics across the board, but he made up for it with 64 receptions, 549 receiving yards, and three receiving touchdowns.ย 

White scored 13 or more PPR FPs in 12 of his last 14 games including the postseason and 15.9 or more PPR FPs in 10 of those 14 games. He finished with the ninth-most targets among running backs in 2023 and had one of the highest catch rates of all running backs. Don’t expect big plays, however, if you’re investing a second-round pick in White. He had a long run of 38 yards in 2023 and only three carries that went 16 yards or longer. Volume should keep White locked into an RB2 role, but his touchdown total will tell the story of whether or not he can return value in a second-round capital investment.

Henry will be one of the more polarizing backs to draft in 2024 due to his age. Many analysts in the draft community opt to avoid running backs on the wrong side of 30 with a top-three round investment altogether and Henry is coming off a career-worst 4.2 yards per carry in 2023. Henry has also racked up 2,030 carries in his career. Of course, his situation has completely changed in 2024 after signing with the Ravens and leaving behind one of the worst offensive lines in football in 2023.

Fun stat: Before 2023, Henry had been RB4 or better per game in all formats for four straight seasons. In four of the five seasons since Lamar Jackson took over as the Ravens starting quarterbacks, a Baltimore running back has finished inside the top 11 in total rushing yards. In 2023, Ravens running backs scored 13 rushing touchdowns combined. Derrick Henry has scored 12, 16, 17, 10, 13 and 12 rushing touchdowns in each of his last six seasons, respectively. He has played 15 or more games in every season except 2021 when he played 8 games and missed half the season with a foot injury. Henry is one of my favorite Round 2 targets due to his touchdown upside and the potential for positive game script on a contending Ravens roster.

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Author: Dan Schneier
June 12, 2024 | 4:00 pm

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