Which 3 RBs Should You Draft During the RB Dead Zone in 2024 Fantasy Football?

Who should you smash the draft button for in the 2024 RB Dead Zone?

If you are new to fantasy football, then welcome! If you are a seasoned veteran of the game and familiar with the RB dead zone, I also wish to extend a heartfelt welcome.

For those who might be reading this and aren’t sure exactly what constitutes the fantasy football RB dead zone, it’s a term used to describe the multi-round area of the draft where running backs historically fail to return value on their draft investment. Historically, these running backs typically fall between rounds three and six.

For context, here is a list of mid-round running backs that have current average draft positions (ADPs) in 2024 fantasy football between those four rounds:

Round 3

  • Travis Etienne (ADP 27)
  • Josh Jacobs (ADP 33)
  • Isiah Pacheco (ADP 34)

Round 4

  • Rachaad White (ADP 41)
  • James Cook (ADP 42)
  • Joe Mixon (ADP 43)

Round 5

  • Alvin Kamara (ADP 52)
  • Ken Walker III (ADP 55)
  • Aaron Jones (ADP 60)

Round 6

  • David Montgomery (ADP 61)
  • Rhamondre Stevenson (ADP 69)
  • Najee Harris (ADP 72)

There are a lot of intriguing names tucked away in each of those rounds. The RB3 overall (Etienne), RB4 overall (White), and RB6 overall (Mixon) are all neatly tucked together in rounds three and four. Two other RB1s from last season can be found between rounds three and five: the RB11 (Kamara) and the RB12 (Cook).

So, with name power like that and a history of good to elite past production, why aren’t these players necessarily considered smash values in the “dead zone?”

Some nearby wide receivers include:

Round 3

  • Mike Evans (WR 7 in 2023)
  • D.J. Moore (WR 6)
  • Stefon Diggs (WR 9)

Round 4

  • DK Metcalf (WR 21)
  • Amari Cooper (WR 20)
  • DeVonta Smith (WR 19)

Round 5

  • Tank Dell (WR 19 in PPG)
  • Keenan Allen (WR 8)

Round 6

  • Calvin Ridley (WR 18)
  • Malik Nabers
  • Jayden Reed (WR 25)

With high-quality tight ends like Travis Kelce, Trey McBride, and Mark Andrews and elite fantasy QBs like Jalen Hurts, Patrick Mahomes, and Lamar Jackson thrown in. Is it necessarily the smartest decision to target any of these RBs and not look more towards a “hero RB” approach?

The narrative around the RB Dead Zone might change this year. While some foreseeable roadblocks persist for some on this list, some have predominately clear paths to returning value.

Travis Etienne, Jacksonville Jaguars (3.03)

“I feel like the ceiling for me, I still haven’t reached it,” Etienne said in an interview in May.

Just prior to talking to the media, head coach Doug Pederson agreed that Etienne is on the cusp of “taking another step.”

“I think there’s more out there that he can get yard wise,” Pederson said.

From 2022 to 2023, Etienne saw his receiving work jump, catching 58 of 73 targets for 476 yards and one house call.

via GIPHY

“I say you have to throw me the ball,” he said. “I feel like I’m a great receiver. I feel like my hands are great. I just feel like they just have to throw me the ball, and then we won’t even have any discussion.”

Does the data support Etienne as a strong dead zone value candidate?

Opportunity

Last season, despite only averaging 3.8 YPC behind a putrid offensive line, Etienne averaged 0.83 fantasy points per opportunity (FPPO) and 1.0 fantasy points over expectation (FPOE), according to my model.

We’ve already talked about Etienne’s juicy receiving role with the Jaguars, but where he could really stand to improve are his red zone targets, only commanding two looks in the money zone.

Regarding his red-zone role, Etienne saw 38 RZ rushing opportunities (T-10th).

Despite all of the offseason nonsense surrounding Tank Bigsby and his role in the offense, Etienne ranked third in total opportunities (340). With word that Bigsby is failing to impress this offseason after struggling mightily as a rookie, Etienne appears to be a lock to see as much work as he can handle, again, in 2024.

Isiah Pacheco, Kansas City Chiefs (3.10)

Pacheco was a world-beater for a stretch in 2023.

In 2023, Pacheco saw at least 12 rush attempts in 11 games. Across those 11 games, Pacheco was on pace for 289 PPR points (17.02 ppg) on the back of 1,307 rushing yards and 9 TDs. Additionally, he was pacing for 51 receptions for 334 yards and 3 receiving TDs on just 57 targets.

Had that pace held, Pacheco would have finished ahead of Etienne as the RB3, just 1.5 points behind Breece Hall.

Pacheco scored 0.84 FPPO and 0.2 FPOE on the season. In other words, Pacheco’s 254 total opportunities were on par with Hall (15.5 xFP), Jahmyr Gibbs (14.9 xFP), and Bijan Robinson (14.6 xFP).

He saw 51 total red-zone opportunities in 2023, including nine red-zone targets. With the addition of rookie lightning-bolt Xavier Worthy and the explosive Hollywood Brown, the Chiefs pass catchers are again LOADED with explosive talent.

With the best quarterback in football at the helm, there’s little reason to believe the Chiefs’ offense will not be just as potent, if not more lethal, in 2024.

Without Jerick McKinnon, who admittedly could still wind up back with the Chiefs this season, Pacheco is a potential league-winner going way later than he should be.

Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints (5.04)

You’re telling me I can get last year’s RB3 in ppg in the fifth round?

Yes, yes. Kamara’s rushing efficiency has been steadily dipping throughout his career. I know, I know. Kamara has scored fewer touchdowns on the ground in the last three seasons combined than he did in 2020.

Who cares?

In 13 games last season, Kamara saw 86 targets. He caught 75 for 466 yards. That’s major fantasy juice.

Despite scoring -1.0 FPOE in 2023, Kamara still averaged 17.9 ppg and was second only to Christian McCaffrey in xFP.

So why is Kamara such a safe bet to return value and win teams’ fantasy titles? Derek Carr is still the quarterback. Last season, once Kamara returned from suspension, he saw an 18.7% target share. He still has little to no competition for receiving work.

Currently being valued as the RB16, Kamara is in line to crush that value.

Other high-value targets: Rachaad White, Rhamondre Stevenson

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