Hero RB Strategy: Which Running Backs are Worth Round 1 and 2 Picks in 2024 Fantasy Football?

Bijan Robinson 2024 fantasy outlook

Key Takeaways

  • Fantasy football drafters are investing less early-round draft capital into the running back position than ever before. This is because the RB position is more volatile and injury-prone.
  • Zero-RB and Hero RB Fantasy Draft Strategies are becoming more successful and popular every season in the context of a fantasy football draft.
  • If you spend a Round 1 or 2 pick on a running back, be sure he has legendary upside: huge spike-week potential, three-down skill set, and high-TD equity.
  • Some “Hero-Worthy RBs” worth Round 1 and 2 picks include Christian McCaffrey, Breece Hall, Bijan Robinson, Jahmyr Gibbs, Jonathan Taylor, and De’Von Achane.

Introduction: The “Fragility” of the RB Position

Long-time fantasy fans dream of the old days when you started RB-RB, and nothing else mattered. Numerous backs were force-fed 350+ touches a season, and landing the likes of La’Danian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson, Priest Holmes, Shaun Alexander, and Steven Jackson was crucial to success.

Nowadays, the NFL and Fantasy Football landscapes are both changing. Most NFL teams now feature Running-Back-By-Committee (RBBC) approaches, dividing the workload among multiple backs. Sometimes, this means defined roles, like a lead rusher and a passing-down specialist. Other times, they simply divide the whole “backfield pie” among 2-3 mouths. The impact of selecting an RB in the first round has also changed over the years, as the strategy now requires careful consideration of the RB’s role and team dynamics.

Rarely do we get a true three-down horse that’s monopolizing 300-plus touches. In fact, via FantasyLife’s Utilization Report, only four RBs saw north of 70% of their teams’ snaps. Just 10 hit 60% or higher snap share, and only three RBs (Joe Mixon, Derrick Henry, and Rachaad White) tallied 60% or more of their team rush attempts.

The move to shared workloads makes plenty of real-life sense. RBs take a ton of hits, and splitting the workload keeps them fresher and healthier for the run of the season.

Unfortunately, this has made the position much more volatile in fantasy football. Besides Tight End, RB is the most volatile position in year-to-year projections. Even with split workloads, RBs still get injured at the highest clip, too. As such, the position is accurately labeled as fragile.

Fantasy managers are waking up to RB Fragility, and it’s vastly impacting the way they’re approaching drafts, especially in Best Ball Fantasy football.

How is RB Fragility Impacting the Fantasy Football Market?

Long gone are the days of RB-RB starts. Given the fragility of RBs, drafters often opt for a wide receiver-heavy start to their drafts. WRs offer three advantages to most RBs:

  1. WRs get injured at a lower rate.
  2. WRs are easier to project from season-to-season.
  3. WRs offer a steadier source of “spike weeks” (20+ FPs) than most RBs

Additionally, because of RB Fragility, it’s easier to find massive RB hits in the later rounds of drafts or on Waiver Wires in managed leagues. The RB position offers a higher likelihood of “handcuff contingency upside,” whereas very few late-round WRs smash to the level of RBs.

Just think about how often winning fantasy rosters feature backup RBs that come in fresh and go nuts as they fill in for an injured lead back! This late-season push is crucial to winning, both in regular fantasy redraft leagues but especially in Best Ball. “Back-weighted production” for those playoff weeks typically proves to be far more valuable, especially when millions of dollars are on the line in Underdog. Selecting RBs with potential upside in the seventh round or later can be a game-changer.

Our own MOH dove into how this WR focus has impacted the Running Back landscape in fantasy drafts. The impact is much heavier in Underog Best Ball than Redraft, but both markets are shifting dramatically:

UNDERDOG BEST BALL ADP – Rounds 1-4:

Best Ball ADP Takeaways:

  • 7 RBs through the Top-24 (29%)
  • 17 WRs in the Top-24 (71%)
  • 11 RBs in the Top-48 (23%)
  • 31 WRs in the Top-48 (65%)

Clearly, Best Ball drafters are leaning into WR-heavy starts more than ever before. Moreover, the RB24 lasts until the middle of Round 8 in Underdog Fantasy!

Now compare that to:

YAHOO ADP – Rounds 1-4

  • 10 RBs through the Top-24 (41%)
  • 12 WRs in the Top-24 (50%)
  • 18 RBs in the Top-48 (37.5%)
  • 22 WRs in the Top-48 (46%)

You’ll notice some stark differences in guys like Derrick Henry (31 on UD vs. 16 on Yahoo), Isiah Pacheco (47 on UD vs. 22 on Yahoo), and Josh Jacobs (52 on UD vs. 26 on Yahoo).

Moreover, guys like Rachaad White, Kenneth Walker, Joe Mixon, David Montgomery, Alvin Kamara, and James Cook get drafted in Rounds 3 or 4 in Yahoo, compared to Rounds 6 or 7 in Best Ball.

At least in Best Ball, these light-RB, heavy-WR approaches provided the highest-scoring rosters in 2023. Via @HaydenWinks:

  • The highest-scoring roster builds in 2023 had zero RBs through six-rounds
  • The next highest construction drafted just one RB through six-rounds

Meanwhile, when looking at the Optimal time to Draft WRs:

  • The highest-scoring rosters included 5 WRs through six rounds and six WRs through seven Rounds
  • If you only had two WRs through Round 6, you were toast

This has led to the massive ADP shift in Best Ball Markets that many deem “The WR Avalanche.” Essentially, to succeed in Best Ball, you must get four WRs through Round 7, and typically six WRs by Round 10. If you fall behind on “WR-Firepower,” it is nearly impossible to dig yourself out.

I thought former BBM3 winner Pat Kerrane and Erik Beimfohr broke the concept down brilliantly in their recent “Best Ball Pinball” episode of “Legendary Sickos.” This clip summarizes what Kerrane considers to be the winning formula.

Essentially, you need to get your WRs early and often. This is the “table stakes,” so to speak. However, choosing when to detour and who to pick when you do will likely determine who goes home with $1,500,000 this December.

Granted, this level of WR-Firepower isn’t necessary in our managed redraft leagues. If anything, it might create a headache for our weekly Sit / Start choices.

Even still, elite RB production can be found in the later rounds regardless of format, especially due to the “seasonal chaos” that the RB position is so susceptible to. For WRs, it’s incredibly rare to hit big fantasy value after Rounds 1-4. Thus, I will approach Redraft and Best Ball with a WR-heavy mindset in 2024 fantasy.

Still, one spot that I feel could be the most impactful spot for a “detour” is also my favorite strategy in 2024 Redraft Leagues too:

The Hero RB Draft Strategy.

What is the Hero RB Strategy in Fantasy Football?

The Hero RB strategy involves drafting one of the Top 8 RBs in Round 1 or 2 and then avoiding the RB position for a long time.

Unlike Zero RB, where you avoid the position entirely until the later rounds, the Hero RB approach gives you a true No.1 RB Anchor to build around. With this stud running back acquired, drafters will load up on WRs (especially in Best Ball), or perhaps take a detour for an elite QB or TE.

The Anchor RB strategy is similar but emphasizes selecting an elite RB early and focusing on other positions, such as WR or TE, in the early rounds. This approach aims to mitigate the volatility of the RB position and take advantage of potential legendary performances from top RBs. Drafters using the Anchor RB strategy also highlight the value of late-round RB selections in supporting the team.

Most often, drafters using the Hero RB fantasy football strategy won’t address the RB position again until Round 7 or beyond.

Why the Hero RB Strategy Can Win Leagues

If WRs are far safer and less likely to bust or get hurt… why bother drafting anything but WRs in the early rounds?

This is a fair question, and it’s a reason why the Zero RB Strategy also works incredibly well. Zero-RB is the safest way to draft, with minimal exceptions.

Though his “Legendary RB” masterpiece is a couple of years old, Kerrane illustrated this higher RB-bust rate quite well:

“Many running backs are flat out busting… 27% of all running backs drafted in the first six rounds have been outright losing leagues. [Round 1-2 RBs] running are busting 40% of the time!”

Even still, Kerrane concluded that we should take on the risk of finding a Hero RB in the early rounds. This is because when we find a rare league-winning RB, it’s the single-biggest edge in all of fantasy football. Building a team around one early-round RB can lead to a standout fantasy season if the chosen RB stays healthy and performs well.

Think of 2017 Todd Gurley. Or 2019 / 2024 Christian McCaffrey. True “name a season after you” upside almost exclusively belongs to RBs.

I’ll reference data from three great fantasy minds to illustrate this edge: more Kerrane, plus Scott Barrett and Jack Miller. Some of this is slightly outdated (and I’ll point out where), but most of it is even more relevant than ever before.

In his 2023 “Anatomy of a League Winner,“ Scott Barrett broke down the common characteristics of the most common players on ESPN playoff rosters from 2017-2022:

Based on these numbers, he ascertained:

“Like it or not, the running back position is THE most important position in fantasy.

More so than any other position, running backs make up most of any season’s league-winners. And typically, you’ll have to pay up to acquire them... Over the past six seasons, 17 running backs earned their owners a Win% over 60.0%. Over the same span, only six wide receivers, three tight ends, two quarterbacks, two defenses, and one kicker reached that threshold.”

Barrett highlights that, outside of waiver wire guys, 80% of league-winning RBs came from the first four rounds. This does play into the notion of contingency upside being more plentiful at RB than anywhere else. Still, the truly legendary RB seasons come at a price.

Kerrane further illustrated this by visualizing Round 1-6 RB Win Rates vs. WR Win Rates:

While WRs were the safer bet to “get on base” and give you a nice 13-15% win rate, RBs were the only position capable of a 30%+ win-rate SMASH.

The data has changed slightly since Kerrane plotted these. In 2021, Cooper Kupp hit a massive 48.2% advance rate (although he was a Round 4 pick). In 2022, Tyreek Hill advanced teams 35.7% of the time as a Round 2 pick while also providing a 34.5% advance rate in 2023 (ADP 4.3). CeeDee Lamb also hit a massive 34.6% advance rate last year.

Yes, a select 2-3 WRs are breaking the mold. Still, RB is the best shot to hit that HR. Jonathan Taylor, Josh Jacobs, and Christian McCaffrey have provided 35-40%+ advance rates in the same time frame.

Jack Miller also dove deep into the Hero-RB roster construction as a whole. He visualized how RB and WR scoring were fairly similar in Rounds 1-2, but the gap significantly widened in favor of WRs in the Round 3-6 range. This is how he coined his now-famous “RB Dead Zone.”

Based on this scoring gap, Miller concluded that securing an Early Round RB capable of matching (or exceeding) the same-priced WRs provides a massive edge. We must draft an RB at some point, so swing for the only ones capable of matching the elite WR production.

Hopefully, you now recognize the potential massive edge a Hero-RB – who is irreplaceably elite – can provide. I especially find this is true in Redraft Leagues, where the WR depth isn’t nearly as necessary as in Best Ball.

The appropriate follow-up question is: who do we draft? What do we look for?

Common Characteristics of League-Winning “Hero RBs”

Thankfully, Kerrane again did some serious legwork in defining common traits of RBs that are truly “Hero-Worthy.”

Kerrane dove into the 36 RBs who averaged 23+ FPs over at least 12 games since 2000 to identify trends and benchmarks toward “legendary upside.”

Of course, there are anomalies, and many outcomes can’t be boiled down to a single checklist or point. Still, some clear trends emerged – many that should not surprise fantasy owners:

  • Versatile skillset, with an ability to shoulder volume and goalline work (duh).
  • A pass-catching role that can yield 4+ weekly receptions
  • Even better if the back has flashed elite receiving upside and the ability to break a big play as a pass-catcher
  • A path to at least 2 “green zone” opportunities (inside-the-10) a game
  • Running behind above-average to elite offensive line
  • Often 26 or under, and typically over 210 lbs

In short, “Hero-Worthy” RBs are typically young, sturdy, three-down backs in above-average, elite offensive environments. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but this still provides a nice checklist as we dive into the 2024 RB talent pool. The hero RB draft strategy can significantly influence the selection of these league-winning Hero RBs by prioritizing a top-tier running back early in the draft.

Let’s evaluate which running backs I believe carry true “Hero-Worthy” RB upside that is worth an early-round pick.

Which Running Backs are Worth Round 1-2 Picks in 2024 Fantasy?

Tier 1 – The God Himself

Christian McCaffrey (SF-RB)

You shouldn’t need me to sing Christian McCaffrey‘s praises. Still, some people claim Bijan Robinson or Breece Hall deserve the RB1 crown because they are younger.

Blasphemy. McCaffrey has always been a Fantasy God, ranking as the RB3, RB1, RB1, RB8, RB2, and RB1 across his past six seasons. His 2019 season was the fifth-highest scoring for an RB of ALL-TIME.

After two “down years” on dreadful Carolina teams, McCaffrey has been a monster in Kyle Shanahan’s dream scheme. He has topped 20 Half PPR points in 15-of-26 games, finishing as a Top-12 RB a whopping 77% of the time and a top-5 RB in 14-of-26 games (54%). Absurd!

Last year, he was first in total opportunities, fourth in RB targets, first in rushing yards, first in rushing TDs, and first in PPR FPPG & total FPs. He checks all the “Legendary RB Upside” boxes. A great offense, a strong line, and meaningful work in every facet of the game, including the red zone. Another 20+ TD season is very possible, even if the 49ers lighten McCaffrey’s load.

Not only is CMC my RB1 for 2024, but he is the No. 1 overall player in both my 2024 Fantasy Football Rankings and my 2024 Best Ball Rankings, too.

Tier 2 – Worth Round 1 Consideration

Bijan Robinson (ATL-RB)

Despite being lauded as a “generational product,” Bijan Robinson underwhelmed in fantasy as a rookie. He finished as the PPR RB8 in total FPs, ranking as the RB16 in FPPG.

Yes, Arthur Smith’s frustrating rotation should shoulder some (much) of the blame. Still, Robinson did finish third in RB targets and ninth in total opportunities. He ranked first in RB routes (385). Robinson was just slightly above average in efficiency, ranking 27th in FPs per opportunity, 21st in YPRR, and 16th in YPC.

Still, Robinson’s situation will vastly improve in 2024, and I expect those efficiency numbers to spike in addition to steadier usage.

Reason 1? Kirk Cousins‘ arrival should mean a far more stable overall offensive environment. Defenses will have to respect the passing game far more than Desmond Ridder or Taylor Heineke being under center. Robinson faced an average of 6.7 defenders in the box (RB36), and teams will no longer be able to stack the front. His eight TDs (RB20) could legitimately double in a more competent offense as well.

Additionally, new OC Zac Robinson hails from the Shanahan / Sean McVay tree. This scheme’s key focus is merging the run and pass games, and the right talent (CMC, Todd Gurley, Kyren Williams) often produces monstrous results.

Bijan has already been promised “usage like Christian McCaffrey.” If Zac Robinson deploys Bijan like Kyren Williams, he could see north of 340+ touches. Williams averaged 82% of the snaps, 74% of the rushes, and 65% of the routes under Robinson’s direction — massive totals that were topped only by CMC (per FantasyLife’s Utilization Hub):

Stir in a line that ranks 6th in PFF’s line grades (and top-3 in run blocking), and Robinson presents the perfect balance of talent + usage + surrounding talent — all the ingredients for a legendary RB season. He is my RB2 this year and ranks fifth overall on my 2024 Redraft Big Board and 7th overall on my 2024 Best Ball Big Board.

Breece Hall (NYJ-RB)

Miraculously, Breece Hall finished 2023 as the RB2 in fantasy, despite being shackled to a hellish QB Carousel of Zach Wilson, Tim Boyle, and Trevor Siemian. This is a testament to Hall’s unique, elite talent, and also his extremely high fantasy floor. It can truly only get better from here.

In 2024, it could get MUCH better. Aaron Rodgers is already a full-go and should create the best offensive environment Hall has ever played in. Rodgers routinely checks down and gets his RBs into advantageous situations, in addition to creating more opportunities for TDs.

The Jets ranked 29th in points per game (15.8) last year. With Rodgers, the Packers routinely ranked Top-10. Hall is an excellent bet to improve upon his nine total TDs (RB12).

Hall is also fully healthy entering this season after fighting through an ACL tear that ruined an explosive start to his NFL career. Hall said he “feels like I’m back to my old self,” which is scary considering how well he played. Remember, Hall ranks in the 97th percentile with a 4.39 forty at 217 pounds. He’s a size-speed terror.

Perhaps best of all, the Jets go from 2023’s 31st-ranked offensive line to a potential top-5 unit this season (ranked 5th by PFF). In free agency, New York signed Tyron Smith from the Cowboys and the mauling Morgan Moses from the Ravens, who both ranked in the top 10 in PFF grade last year. They also spent the 11th overall pick on monstrous T Olu Fashanu.

Over his final three games, in which he finally felt fully back, Hall accrued 507 YFS, scoring 43, 27.6, and 29 FPs. If he could achieve that in a disastrous setting, imagine what a full year behind a better line and a more stable offense could look like. The ceiling is truly limitless, and Hall ranks as my seventh overall player on my 2024 Fantasy Football Big Board and 8th overall in my 2024 Best Ball Fantasy Football Big Board.

Tier 3 – Round 2 RBs with Round 1 Upside

Jahmyr Gibbs (RB-DET)

Despite ranking just 22nd in total opportunities and 28th in carries, Jahmyr Gibbs still finished eighth in FPPG during his rookie season. This is all the more impressive considering his slow start; Gibbs was just the RB28 from Weeks 1-4 before suffering an injury to miss Weeks 5 & 6.

Upon his return, Gibbs went nuts. He was the RB3 in total FPs, spiking for 24+ Half-PPR FPs in nearly half of his games!

Ultimately, Gibbs tied Kyren Williams and Breece Hall for second in Top-5 Weekly Finishes with six total, trailing only CMC’s nine. Yes, two of these weeks came without David Montgomery, which is a reminder of Gibbs’ massive contingency upside. Montgomery has missed at least one game in four straight years (2, 4, 1, and 3 games).

Even in an RBBC that caps his TD upside, Gibbs could spike as a receiver in 2024. He ranked just 8th in targets (8th) and 9th in catches (52), despite GM Brad Holmes calling him a “special weapon” in the mold of CMC and Marshall Faulk when he was drafted.

Holmes is again hyping up Gibbs as he enters his sophomore campaign. Holmes said he expects Gibbs to “see more of a load…and has much more to offer in the passing game, so you’ll likely see an increase in that as well.” Josh Reynolds vacates 64 targets in his departure, and without the team adding any real replacement, some of that work could definitely fall into Gibbs’ lap.

According to early Vegas lines, the Lions are projected to score the second-most points in the league, behind only the 49ers. They are also expected to play in 13 games with 48+ point totals. (H/T Connor Allen).

The Lions also consistently boast the No.1 ranked offense line, including in PFF’s 2024 line grades. With a ripe offensive environment, a prominent receiving role, and explosive talent, Gibbs deserves Round 1 consideration. He is my RB4, ranks 10th on my 2024 Fantasy Football Big Board, and 12th overall on my 2024 Best Ball Fantasy Football Rankings.

Jonathan Taylor (RB-IND)

I don’t love Taylor in 2024 fantasy, but there’s no denying the Hero RB fantasy upside here. He is just two seasons removed from finishing as the clear RB1, with 2171 YFS and 20 total TDs on a massive 384 opportunities.

Since then, Taylor has struggled with injuries and holdouts, but this new Colts offense under Shane Steichen offers tons of upside. Despite missing their franchise QB, the Colts ranked 12th in plays run and 11th in points.

Taylor also played well once his legs were under him and saw meaningful work. From Week 7 onward, JT was the RB3 in Fantasy with 16.8 FPPG. He finished Top-12 in 56% of his games. If you combined Zach Moss and JT’s scoring from starts, you’d get 268.6 FPs, which would have ranked RB2 on the season.

Obviously, we can’t just assume that’s how Taylor would have performed. Moreover, the injuries across the past two seasons are a definite concern. Anthony Richardson also posts a massive vulture threat at the goal line.

Still, we’ve seen JT break fantasy before. Moss is now gone, so the show will be his as long as he holds up, and this is a ripe environment. The Colts line ranks third in PFF’s 2024 line rankings, boasting continuity, the top tackles duo in the league, and with Ryan Kelly at center.

While I mostly target WR in Best Ball at JT’s price range, I have mixed him in just to ensure I have some exposure. He faces the easiest playoff schedule, so Taylor could be “the guy you need” to win leagues and Best Ball tournaments in 2024. He ranks as my RB5 and is the 14th overall player on my 2024 Fantasy Football Big Board, compared to a 21st overall ranking on my 2024 Best Ball Fantasy Football Big Board.

De’Von Achane (MIA-RB)

My last “Hero Worthy RB” may surprise many, especially the redraft crowd. De’Von Achane is currently going 32nd overall in Yahoo Fantasy Football, but I have him a whopping +16 spots, all the way up at 16 Overall on my 2024 Fantasy Football Big Board.

Sure, Achane only played 11 games and was banged up for a handful of those. Yet, what Achane did when active was nothing short of remarkable. Historic. Record-setting.

His 7.8 YPC is the most by any RB in a single season for all-time (minimum 100 carries) by a full yard! In games when he played at least seven snaps, Achane averaged an absurd 31.8 FPPG. This would be the most of any RB for career FPPG ever:

Considering Achane ranked 44th in opportunities, his fantasy production was the result of absurd efficiency. Achane was 1st in fantasy points over expectation (+6.7 FPs per game), yards per touch (7.7), breakaway run rate (12.6%), yards after contact per touch (4.94), Elusive Rating (153.5), and FPs per opportunity (1.36). He led the NFL in runs over 40+ yards with five total… on just 103 carries. He was the RB5 in FPPG and RB1 if you remove games where he saw under ten snaps.

The dude put up nearly 50 FPs in his first true NFL action!

Sure, Achane comes with risk. Raheem Mostert, who led the NFL in rushing touchdowns last year, is still here. The team also traded up to draft speedster Jaylen Wright (who I love in Dynasty and Best Ball). At just 5’9″ and 188 lbs, there’s obvious injury risk to Achane. Still, Achane proved plenty capable of shouldering a massive workload, accumulating 40% of Texas A&M’s yards and scores (91st percentile Dominator Rating).

Moreover, Achane reportedly had two goals this offseason: “Get stronger to better withstand the hits taken in the NFL and improve on his route-running to get the ball more often in the passing game.”

Through OTAs, Achane reportedly moved all over while working out with the WRs more often. He noted how he is “lining up at different positions, like a receiver, running routes and stuff…That’s something that we’re doing different this year, so that’s something that I’ve been doing in the offseason.”

FantasyPoints’ Ryan Heath also noted the historical usage trend for backs with this level of efficiency is extremely encouraging:

Simply put, Achane flashed the outlier talent and scoring ability to be a true Fantasy Legend. If he can sustain his health and/or see a meaningful uptick in work, Achane truly has the upside to be the No.1 RB in fantasy.

This makes him an absolute must-draft in all formats at his late-second to mid-third price tag. Upside wins championships, and no one has more of it, especially at this cost, than Achane.

Noticeably Absent from Round 1 & 2 RBs to Target

Saquon Barkley (RB-PHI)

Considering he goes in Round 1 in redraft and is gone by Pick 20 in Best Ball, Saquon Barkley is a noticeable omission from my list of Hero RB targets.

I understand the hype. The Eagles offensive line was 2023’s top-graded unit and ranked second in PFF’s 2024 Rankings (compared to the 29th Giants). Barkley goes from the 30th-ranked offense to the seventh. Shouldn’t last year’s RB6 in FPPG smash even harder in a more fertile environment?

Honestly, Saquon could. I expect him to be more efficient in Philly and have a steadier weekly floor than the boom-bust nature we saw during his Giants’ tenure.

Yet, I think the booms may also be a little less impactful and less frequent. Remember, we are swinging for true week-changing, season-defining upside if taking an early RB, and I just don’t know if Barkley has that with the Eagles.

The first risk is obvious: Jalen Hurts is the ultimate TD vulture. Sure, Swift actually averaged 1.5x Barkley’s goal-line carries per game last year  (14 attempts over 16 games compared to Barkley’s eight over 14 games).

But on those true “lay-ups” on the one-yard line, it will be Hurts. Hurts ranked first in the NFL in TDs inside the five last season (13, 15 total rushing touchdowns) and has 28 combined rushing TDs the past two seasons (most in the NFL).

Additionally, the Eagles offense could limit Barkley’s receiving ceiling. In Hurts’ two full seasons at QB, the Eagles have ranked 21st and 32nd in RB targets and have consistently been behind the Giants in this metric. Sure, they haven’t had a pass-catcher like Barkley (although Swift is no slouch) but Hurts also scrambles for first downs more often than a statue QB who may dump it off.

Barkley will also now be contending with AJ Brown and Devonta Smith for looks, too. He’s been the clear top offensive weapon in New York for his entire career, and still hasn’t averaged over 18 weighted opportunities per game since 2019. With so many other mouths to feed and Hurts’ value-soaking presence, I think Barkley’s true “Legendary Upside” is capped.

Granted, I’m not 100% out on Barkley in redraft, where we don’t need a true outlier performance to beat hundreds of thousands of other teams. He should be a reliable low-end RB1 that is relatively worth his cost. Yet, especially in Best Ball, I can’t justify taking a detour from the WR avalanche for a ceiling that feels as capped as Barkley’s.

Hero-RB Upside Honorable Mention

Isiah Pacheco (RB-KC)

For years, Andy Reid‘s featured RBs used to be a fantasy lock. From Brian Westbrook to Jamaal Charles, Reid often leaned on a single back and used them masterfully in the passing game.

Then Clyde Edwards-Helaire came and ruined all our dreams. In the Patrick Mahomes era, we really haven’t seen a bonafide fantasy lock, as Reid has turned more to a committee approach.

During his impressive sophomore campaign, Isiah Pacheco flashed the upside to buck that trend and become the next Reid RB Monster. He finished as the RB15 in FPPG, but the more important stats to dive into were his games without Jerick McKinnon, who is currently off the roster.

Check out Pacheco’s usage and production in seven games without McKinnon:

81% snap share, 20 touches (5 rec), 25.9 FPs, RB4
70.1% snap share , 21 touches (3 rec), 21.3 FPs, RB3
58.7% snap share, 15 touches (4 rec), 10.6 FPs, RB28 (first game back from an injury)
92.3% snap share, 25 touches (7 rec), 29.5 FPs, RB2
69.9% snap share, 25 touches (1 rec), 15.8 FPs, RB6
71.7% snap share, 16 touches (1 rec), 18.1 FPs, RB4
77.9% snap share, 28 touches (4 rec), 18.2 FPs, RB3

Pacheco averaged 22.3 FPPG and a 14.9% target share without McKinnon. His full season pace in games without Jerick: 353 opps (89 tgts & 81 rec), 1712 YFS, and 21 TDs for 379 PPR FPs.

Pacheco trailed only McCaffrey and Kyren Williams in weighted opportunity per game from Week 10 onward. The Chiefs added no real backfield competition over free agency or the draft, but they did add surrounding firepower in Marquise Brown and Xavier Worthy. Both WRs should make this offense even more dangerous, which boosts Pacheco’s TD ceiling even further.

Given Reid’s track record producing league-winning RB ceilings, and Pacheco’s sample-size as “the guy” when McKinnon was out, there’s definitely a path to some season-changing upside. I especially love Pacheco’s Round 4 price in Best Ball, but have a harder time clicking him in Round 2 in redraft right now.

Summary: Only Draft RBs with “Hero RB Upside” in Rounds 1 & 2

Ideally, this article has emphasized the importance of WR Firepower in 2024 fantasy football, especially for Best Ball. This is why your detours need to be carefully planned. If you take an RB in Rounds 1 or 2, you must ensure they have Hero RB Upside, with the ceiling for a truly legendary fantasy season.

These types of outcomes are rare, and don’t happen every year. Yet, in 2024, Christian McCaffrey, Bijan Robinson, Breece Hall, Jahmyr Gibbs, Jonathan Taylor, and De’Von Achane all profile as potential “Legendary Upside” RBs that are well-worth Round 1 and 2 picks in 2024 fantasy drafts.

In Redraft, I am much more likely to deploy the Hero RB Strategy, especially in leagues that only require 2 WRs. No position can provide as big of an edge when they hit, so a Hero RB is the ultimate “anchor piece” to build around, especially in redraft.

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