NFL free agency 2024: Way-too-early fantasy football rankings for RBs on new teams

Everyone knew we were headed for a frenetic league-wide game of running back musical chairs in free agency, given the fact that so many top players were available simultaneously, and … well, wow.

Once again, the NFL did not disappoint. It rarely does. Monday’s frenzy was notably wild — and the aftershocks were pretty fun, too.

*fans self*

Now that most (but not all) of the luxury RBs have landed in new spots (other than Dallas), we can begin to consider where, exactly, these guys will slot in the 2024 fantasy hierarchy. Today, our mission is to do a little back-of-the-envelope ranking of the veteran backs who recently relocated.

Please note: March fantasy ranks do not represent a binding commitment. I reserve the right to repudiate any or all of these rankings for any reason, at any time. We still have various other signings and the full NFL draft ahead of us. This exercise is purely for entertainment purposes; no one’s home league is drafting any time soon.

Let’s begin with a rank I think many of you will truly hate …

Josh Jacobs, Green Bay Packers: RB6, easy first-round pick

For the folks who fail to appreciate Jacobs as one of the NFL’s most dynamic and productive runners, we will remind you that he finished top-five in missed tackles forced on rush attempts in each of his first four seasons, twice leading the league (2019 and 2022). No disrespect intended to Aaron Jones, a fantastic player (more on him below), but Jacobs is younger and more elusive. He might be the most chronically underrated great back in the game, despite having a rushing title on his resume. Jacobs is a gifted receiving threat as well, with a pair of 50-catch seasons to his credit.

If you’re worried about last season’s dip in performance (which is reasonable), you can take comfort in the fact that Jacobs returned to excellence as soon as Josh McDaniels was no longer his team’s head coach. Over Jacobs' last four full games before suffering the quad injury against Minnesota, he averaged 100.3 scrimmage yards per week and 4.2 YPC while scoring three touchdowns. He’s simply a terrific player who now finds himself as the unchallenged featured back in an ascending, explosive offense.

By the time draft season officially rolls around, I may talk myself into an even bolder and more bullish rank.

Saquon Barkley, Philadelphia Eagles: RB8, reasonable first-rounder

Pretty much every fantasy league includes at least one meathead Eagles fan and/or NFC East fetishist, so Barkley is probably never gonna fall outside the top-10 overall picks. Like Jacobs, he’s coming off an inefficient season in a dreadful environment, not reflecting his true talent level. Also like Jacobs, Barkley found his way to an offense that is orders of magnitude better than the one he left. He’s one of the clear winners of free agency, no doubt.

We shouldn’t just brush aside the fact that Jalen Hurts dominated goal-to-go carries in Philadelphia last season, delivering 15 rushing scores, 11 of which were one-yard TDs. It’s also important to note that Hurts is not a guy who’s generally looking to toss checkdown passes to his backs, which is typical of QBs who are also gifted runners. D’Andre Swift caught only 39 passes last year, a career low. Of course, the distribution of touches can certainly change with Jason Kelce retired and Kellen Moore as the team’s new OC, but let’s not pretend there are no open questions.

Derrick Henry, Baltimore Ravens: RB10, early-to-mid second-round

It’s kinda crazy Henry didn’t land in Baltimore at the trade deadline last season, but at least it finally happened. An elite running back joining an elite rushing offense is not a situation we should overthink. Five different Ravens backs combined for 18 rushing scores last season, with Gus Edwards crossing the goal line 13 times. Even if the 30-year-old version of Henry isn’t quite the best version, he’s still clearly capable of leading the NFL in touchdowns in a healthy season. Baltimore rarely targets running backs in the passing game, but we’ve never expected — nor have we ever seen — significant receiving usage from Henry. He deserves to be drafted a few spots ahead of last year’s mid-to-late second-round ADP.

Joe Mixon, Houston Texans: RB13, gift in the third round

Of all the teams that were obviously going to add a running back via free agency, Houston probably should have had the longest line of willing applicants for the gig. This is the spot. The Texans have a rocket-emoji offense with a brilliant young quarterback, big-play receivers and talent on the offensive line. If Mixon had to leave Cincinnati, Houston was the best possible place for him to land. He’s the unrivaled lead back for a team with juggernaut potential. Mixon didn’t miss a game last season and he delivered 1,410 scrimmage yards with a dozen touchdowns, so there’s no "he's dust" argument here. This is a good player in a great situation.

Aaron Jones, Minnesota Vikings: RB18, end of the fourth or first pick in the fifth

As if we needed further evidence that pro football can be a cruel and ruthless business, consider Jones’ offseason. After accepting a substantial pay cut to remain with the Packers in 2023, he was asked to take yet another in 2024. Tough scene for a guy who was an absolute wrecking crew in the most important weeks for Green Bay, delivering five straight 100-yard performances at the end of the season, including playoff binges at Dallas and San Francisco.

It should go without saying that Jones can still play at an extremely high level, because, again, he was spectacular just two months ago when facing elite defenses. Health and availability are clear concerns given his age (29) and mileage, but he’s still a dynamic multi-purpose back. We can assume Jones will be the head of a two-back committee in Minnesota, with Ty Chandler retaining a rotational role.

Ideally, this team would have an opening week starting quarterback who is not Sam Darnold.

D’Andre Swift, Chicago Bears: RB22, back to the RB dead zone

The yards-before-contact king is a fun addition for OC Shane Waldron, and he’s pretty clearly the most versatile back on the team’s roster.

However, Swift is not the only back in Chicago deserving of touches. Khalil Herbert and Roschon Johnson are still in the team photo. It’s really just wishcasting to assume a workhorse role for Swift. We should expect a committee arrangement, with Swift as the most valuable member.

Tony Pollard (RB25), Zack Moss (RB27) and Austin Ekeler (RB28): Even dead-zonier than Swift

You can certainly make a case in each of these situations that my initial rank is far too pessimistic, but all three players relocated to teams that already had quality backs on the rosters. Also, Tennessee’s offense is entering a transitional phase in which everyone is new and Washington’s quarterback situation is currently unsettled, which is no small detail. Moss is a nice enough player tied to a presumably great offense, but I’ll remind you that Chase Brown is kind of a badass.

In all likelihood, someone from this group of three is going to deliver a windfall profit at their ADP, one guy is going to land squarely at RB27 and the other will be a universal drop before November. So it goes with backs in this terrifying range.

Devin Singletary (RB32) and Gus Edwards (RB39): Preferred targets for the ZeroRB-ists

Singletary, coming off an impressive season, is presently the lead back in a barren wasteland of an offense. New York is obviously going to add bodies to the backfield, so this rank has no chance to hold.

Edwards is gonna be a great backup and likely mentor to soon-to-be-Charger Blake Corum, but let's not assume he'll have serious fantasy appeal by late summer.