Ranking top 5 rookie running backs by who will be most productive in 2024: Trey Benson leads the way

No, running backs were taken in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft — so it’s a challenge to sort which runners will be the most effective as rookies. 

In what was mostly deemed a “bad” running back class, the 2024 collection together featured a diverse collection of talented runners who just didn’t carry immense hype into the draft in April.

These are the five running backs who’ll be most productive in Year 1.

Honorable Mention: Jonathan Brooks, Panthers

I wasn’t quite as high on Brooks as most others but landing only behind Chuba Hubbard who did have 900-plus yards in 2023 yet averaged fewer than 4.0 yards per rush, is quite favorable for the former Texas runner who saw his final season in Austin cut short due to a knee-ligament tear. 

There’s a chance Carolina slow plays Brooks to begin his NFL career, because of the injury and the fact he’s only 21 years old, the latter of which bodes well for his long-term future with the Panthers. I like Brooks. I didn’t adore him as a prospect, and he’s running behind a retooled offensive line than may take time to gel before it begins paving large lanes for Carolina’s ball-carriers. 

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The Packers made one of the stranger running back decisions of the offseason, allowing Aaron Jones to depart in free agency — and eventually sign with the Vikings — instead paying Josh Jacobs two years removed from his 340-attempt, 1,653-yard season (both of which led the league and immediately following his 2023 in which he averaged 3.5 yards per rush. Now, Jacobs is only 26 years old, and playing on a deal worth $14 million per year, you can write him in permanent marker as Green Bay’s lead back to start the season. 

I don’t believe, though, that money will make him the permanent top dog in the Packers backfield in 2024. Lloyd is a rare cat. He’s about as thick as they come at the running back spot — under 5-foot-9 and 220 pounds at the combine, yet, interestingly, the former South Carolina and USC back doesn’t have a game predicated on pure power. In fact, last year with the Trojans, his forced-missed tackle rate was a whopping 40.8% on 115 carries. As the season progresses, watch how Lloyd starts to earn more of a share of the carries in what should be a fantastic Packers offense. 

4. Tyrone Tracy, Giants

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In 2021, Tracy was a middling wideout at Iowa. Now he’s an exciting Day 3 selection at the running back spot on a Giants team that has Devin Singletary as it’s lead runner entering the 2024 campaign. Don’t get me wrong with that sentence — I love Singletary. He was my RB1 in the 2019 class and has quietly averaged 4.6 yards per carry in his NFL career to date with at least 150 rushes in all of his first five professional seasons. 

But I understand he’s not a true feature back at this stage of his career, although he is fresh off a 216 carry season in Houston in 2023. Tracy has the dynamic linear athleticism Singletary does not, as evidenced by his 4.48 speed and 40-inch vertical at the combine in March. In fact, Tracy’s dynamic physical talent and Singletary’s lateral brilliance will make for a fun running-back tandem in the GMen’s backfield *if* the Giants can actually block for their ground game. 

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Irving was one of those backs — or prospects in general — who appeared significantly more athletic on the field than his combine workout indicated. And while a 29.5-inch vertical at 5-9 and 192 pounds is concerning, he did run a very respectable 4.55 with a 1.54 10-yard split that placed him in the 68th percentile at the position over the last 25 years at the combine. 

And I love his similarity to Rachaad White, Tampa Bay’s No. 1 back. Instead of Irving acting as a genuine complement to White, he can step in to spell White and provide the same pass-catching speciality for Baker Mayfield and Co. 

Not only was Irving easily one of the most purely elusive runners in the 2024 class, he was a major stat compiler as a receiver with 87 receptions for 712 yards and five scores through the air in his final two seasons with the Ducks. So he can’t jump very high and is a tick smaller than teams have traditionally wanted their backs. Fine. But Irving is nearly impossible to corral in space and, similar to White in 2023 when he caught 64 passes, the rookie can be a useful pass-catch element in Tampa Bay. 

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Choosing Vidal in Round 6 was such a prudent, Ravens-esque draft selection by former Baltimore assistant GM and current Chargers GM Joe Hortiz. 

Vidal had no business being available at pick No. 181 given how scintillating he was at Troy and how he tested before the draft. Across 869 carries for the Trojans, Vidal had a forced missed tackle rate just north of 26%, impressive for such high volume. In 2024, he forced 94 missed tackles on 295 carries — 31.8%. 

He’s a hair under 5-8 and a compact 217 pounds with 4.46 speed, and NFL-starter caliber 37.5-inch vertical explosion. He runs with outstanding vision between the tackles, requisite contact balance, and nifty lateral cutting skills. And, quickly, off the top of your head, tell me who the incumbent, veteran back is with the Chargers now that Austin Ekeler plays for the Commanders? Exactly. Vidal will win plenty of fantasy championships in 2024 as a late-round selection who pieces together a fantastic rookie season in Los Angeles in a complex, run-heavy offense. 

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If you’re asking me, Benson was criminally underrated during the pre-draft process, and my guess as to why — he wasn’t ever the clear-cut workhorse back at Florida State, which, should’ve been a clear-cut plus on his draft profile. Benson was never the highly-hyped, 250-plus carry wonder like, say, Breece Hall at Iowa State a few years ago. But of course, his lower-than-normal mileage is a positive as he enters the NFL. 

What cannot be debated about Benson — his elusiveness. In his final 300 collegiate carries, across those two seasons with the Seminoles, the pre-transfer Oregon Duck forced 124 missed tackles, which equates to a seismic 41.3% forced missed tackle rate. Using Hall as a reference again, he forced 139 missed tackles on his final 531 totes in the Big 12. 

Plus, Benson has feature-back size at 6-foot and 214 pounds and home-run hitting 4.39 speed. He joins a Cardinals backfield led by fellow criminally underrated runner James Conner, and not much else. For as good as Conner was in Arizona a season ago — over 1,000 yards at 5.0 yards per pop — he is now 29 with 1,125 NFL carries to his name. Benson is a freakishly balanced, reasonably powerful, and deceptively fast, upright runner who’ll be the most productive rookie ball carrier in 2024. 

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