The Best NFL Offenses for Fantasy Football Running Backs

  • As we’ve seen the NFL shift away from the ground-heavy, run-first approach to offense in football, the importance and pressure of drafting the right running backs in fantasy football is as important as ever. It’s rarer these days, but some offenses in the league still have offensive game plans and environments that can still support top-flight fantasy football RBs. In this piece, I will be going through the NFL and finding out which teams put their running backs in the best position to succeed, so we get a better idea of which RBs have a leg up on the rest of the pack heading into the 2024 fantasy football season. For this list, I will be referring to teams that were above-average in terms of both rushing play percentage and rushing efficiency, figuring out how they ended up in that echelon and how it could translate to this upcoming season. For each team, I’ll discuss any potentially fantasy-viable RBs for 2024 and how they should be valued.

     

    Arizona Cardinals

    The Cardinals were surprisingly one of the few teams to record an average north of 5.0 YPC as a team in 2023, spearheaded by veteran James Conner out of the backfield and an amalgamation of Joshua Dobbs and Kyler Murray on the move while under center at their respective times for Arizona last season. The Cardinals have loved what they’ve gotten from Conner in his three seasons with the team, recording at least 1,080 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns each year, despite missing four games in each of the last two seasons. The team also recorded a run play rate of 45.91% in 2023, which was the 11th-highest mark in the NFL last season.

    The Cardinals may dial back their running back usage in 2024 given a full healthy season of Kyler Murray under center and the addition of the outstanding rookie WR Marvin Harrison Jr., who Arizona selected with the fourth overall draft pick in this year’s NFL Draft. MHJ expects to immediately contend for the lion’s share of opportunities in the Cardinals’ evolving offense. Conner also has arguably his biggest threat to his opportunities in rookie RB Trey Benson, taken as the second RB off the board in this year’s draft, early in the third round. Benson isn’t exactly a perfect back though, and will likely have a slow start to his career as he develops proper NFL experience and polishes his skills.

    I expect James Conner to be a great value in this year’s fantasy football drafts, as many expect the looming age cliff to take hold on his career, dropping the price tag needed to add him to your squads. He will be a lovely addition to any team prioritizing other positions early in the drafts and need steady production from a mid-round RB. Benson likely won’t develop a consistent role on the offense until later in the year, though he could become an instant league-winner if Conner misses any time, and he’s missed a month of each of the last two seasons.

    Baltimore Ravens

    When you have one of the best rushing quarterbacks in the history of the NFL manning your offense, you’re probably going to run the leather off the ball. The Ravens paced the NFL with a whopping 52.3% run play rate in 2023, which crushed the league average of 44.4%. Even if you took away all 148 Lamar Jackson rushing attempts from the team’s season total, the team would still have a near-average rushing rate of 44.3%. The team was running the ball that often with a committee led by solid-at-best Gus Edwards in 2023, who was third in the league with 13 rushing touchdowns last season. With Edwards out the door this off-season as he finds a new home with the Chargers in Los Angeles, Baltimore made a huge upgrade at the position in a major way as they load up for the 2024 NFL season.

    One of the best running backs of the 21st century, longtime-Titans RB Derrick Henry takes hold of the backfield of arguably the best rushing offense in the league. Henry has recorded at least 1,090 scrimmage yards and 10 touchdowns in each of his last six seasons, even doing it in just eight games in 2021. Henry is 30-years-old and is coming off of his career-low 4.2 YPC in 2023, though that’s still a solid number compared to most running backs. The King played all 17 games in 2023, though, and figures to be a top-10 option at the position in his new home in 2024. Henry has really shown no signs of truly being stopped, and will be a fantasy football force to be reckoned with as long as he remains healthy this season.

    As for the rest of the backfield, flashy second-year RB Keaton Mitchell will likely miss the start of the season, though he will surely be an intriguing weapon they will utilize once he gets his legs back under him. In the meantime, Justice Hill had some solid performances last season when he got some opportunities last season, recording career-highs with 593 scrimmage yards and four touchdowns last season. The fifth-year back will probably be the definitive passing down back, and is an intriguing late-round click in best ball drafts this off-season, though he might not sniff redraft fantasy football value without a promotion in the backfield.

    Chicago Bears

    The Bears are among the teams most likely to dial back their run play rate in the upcoming season, as they transformed their offense this off-season, shipping phenomenal rushing QB Justin Fields off to the Pittsburgh Steelers for next to nothing. They drafted rookie QB Caleb Williams out of USC with the first overall pick in this year’s draft and added a couple talented pass-catchers to the team. The team made a stunning trade with the Chargers for veteran WR Keenan Allen, and they also drafted rookie wideout Rome Odunze ninth overall, just eight picks after Williams. In 2023, the team ran the ball at the second-highest rate in the NFL, dialing up run plays 51% of the time. Chicago was also sixth in the NFL with 4.5 yards per carry as a team last season.

    The team also added fourth-year RB D’Andre Swift to the team on a three-year deal, after he had a solid standalone season with the Eagles in 2023. Swift wound up the RB20 overall on the season, breaking the 1,000-rushing-yard mark for the first time in his four-year NFL career. Now, Swift enters a crowded Chicago backfield, though he does so as the primary option after receiving a three-year, $24M contract from the Bears this off-season. The uncertainties of what the Bears’ offense will truly look and perform like leaves the risk-factor at a decent level for Swift, who also has two serviceable backs champing at the bit behind him in the rotation.

    I really liked what we got from Roschon Johnson in his run as the third option in his rookie season for Chicago in 2023, where he racked up 560 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns enroute to a PPR RB47 finish. Khalil Herbert operated as the lead back for a majority of the 12 games he was active for in 2023, though he finished as just the RB43 in an underwhelming campaign marred by a five-game absence in the middle of the season due to injury. Johnson is far and away the preferred dart throw / handcuff for fantasy football purposes, though he could quickly end up on the waiver wire if Swift establishes himself as an alpha RB.

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