Fantasy Football Strategy 2024: The Ultimate Guide to Navigating the Running Back Dead Zone – Key Targets and Must-Avoid Fades

by Theo Gremminger · Featured

The Running Back Dead Zone. Nothing can stop drafters dead in their tracks more than those four words this time of redraft season. The dead zone is the Bermuda Triangle of Fantasy Football. Every year, it appears easy to navigate, but when the dust settles, several dead zone backs will become complete and total busts. Fantasy football strategy becomes important when handling the dead zone. 

There were countless articles last year about how the dead zone had changed. Wow, these fantasy analysts were correct in the notion that wide receivers had steamed up. It did not make the dead zone any less bust-proof. You may have had an extra-round difference from previous seasons, but a fourth-round bust hurts about the same as a third-round bust. 

How did last year’s Dead Zone backs finish? Here is every back from Round 3 through RB28 (I expanded past RB24 because of Draft to Draft variance). 

NOTE: I used counting stats to determine WIN vs. LOSS, not Points Per Game. Using PPG would have made the WINS more pronounced, but hardly any players listed as a LOSS would have qualified for WIN status. Jonathan Taylor technically was a PPG win (RB12 finish). Jahmyr Gibbs was listed as a WIN despite his -2 ADP vs. Overall finish. Gibbs’s exceptional second half of the season was the driver. Kenneth Walker fell into the loss category but was essentially a TIE.

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Player Drafted vs Finish Result

Jahmyr Gibbs: Drafted as the RB8 | Finished as the RB10 | Result – WIN

Josh Jacobs: Drafted as the RB9 | Finished as the RB28 | Result – LOSS

Rhamondre Stevenson: Drafted as the RB10 | Finished as the RB35 | Result – LOSS

Jonathan Taylor: Drafted as the RB11 | Finished as the RB33 | Result – LOSS

Joe Mixon: Drafted as the RB12 | Finished as the RB6 | Result – WIN

Najee Harris: Drafted as the RB13 | Finished as the RB23 | Result – LOSS

Travis Etienne: Drafted as the RB14 | Finished as the RB3 | Result – WIN

Aaron Jones: Drafted as the RB15 | Finished as the RB37 | Result – LOSS

Breece Hall; Drafted as the RB16 | Finished as the RB2 | Result – WIN

Kenneth Walker: Drafted as the RB17 | Finished as the RB19 | Result – TIE

Alexander Mattison: Drafted as the RB18 | Finished as the RB38 | Result – LOSS

Dameon Pierce: Drafted as the RB19 | Finished as the RB55 | Result – LOSS

Javonte Williams: Drafted as the RB20 | Finished as the RB29 | Result – LOSS

James Cook: Drafted as the RB21 | Finished as the RB12 | Result – WIN

Rachaad White: Drafted as the RB22 | Finished as the RB4 | Result – WIN

JK Dobbins: Drafted as the RB23 | Was INJURED | Result – LOSS

Miles Sanders: Drafted as the RB24 | Finished as the RB52 | Result – LOSS

Cam Akers: Drafted as the RB25 | Finished as the RB66 | Result – LOSS

Alvin Kamara: Drafted as the RB26 | Finished as the RB11 | Result – WIN

James Conner: Drafted as the RB27 | Finished as the RB18 | Result – WIN

David Montgomery: Drafted as the RB28 | Finished as the RB17 | Result – WIN


Nine players are considered to be wins compared to 12 players who are considered to be losses. Some of the major Dead Zone winners were younger running backs who could catch passes. There were some MASSIVE hits, but several of the losses were unusable. 

Some will define the Dead Zone differently. Usually, a simple rule is that running backs selected in rounds three through six fall into the Dead Zone. In many previous seasons, those running backs probably started somewhere in RB2 land (RB13 and below). 

Last season, most of the time, RB8 was available in mid-Round 3. This season, RB9 is available in mid-Round 3 in early FFPC drafts, so the landscape is about the same. I will expand the dead zone from Round 3 through Round 7 for this exercise. This should cover draft variances as well as some ADP movement and adjustment. 

De’Von Achane | Miami Dolphins

Range Available: Early Round 3 

Plan of Action: TARGET

Notes: Achane checks off several boxes of a few notable 2023 ADP Dead Zone winners. Much like Etienne, Hall, Gibbs, Cook, and White, he is a younger back with pass-catching ability. Achane is one of the most explosive players in the NFL, averaging 17.3 PPG. 

Travis Etienne | Jacksonville Jaguars

Range Available: Early to Mid-Round 3

Plan of Action: TARGET

Notes: The market is unkind to Etienne this season, but he has a top 5 upside. Jacksonville’s offense could improve, and Etienne also has the potential to take another step forward as a receiver—last year’s RB3 Overall. 

Josh Jacobs | Green Bay Packers

Range Available: Mid to Late Round 3 

Plan of Action: Neutral. Will Usually FADE

Notes: While Jacobs’s appeal in an ascending offense is there, he is probably a purgatory player at this draft range.

If you want to draft him, view him as a structural pick rather than a player with a huge upside. 

Isiah Pacheco | Kansas City

Range Available: Early Round 4

Plan of Action: Neutral. TARGET if you passed on RBs in Rounds 1-3

Notes: Pacheco’s ADP is expensive this season after his bargain basement price in 2023. Gone is Jerick McKinnon. Pacheco has high-level TD upside. His role as a receiver is challenging to see growing with the pass-catching weapons KC added this offseason. 

Rachaad White | Tampa Bay

Range Available: Mid Round 4

Plan of Action: Pass at cost and TARGET when he falls to 5th

Notes: White was terrific in 2023, but the competition behind him has improved (Year 3 – Bucky Irving, Year 2 – Sean Tucker). He relied heavily on volume in 2023, but that could recede with Dave Canales now in Carolina. I prefer drafting White when he falls. Round 5 White is hard to pass up on. I will usually pass in the fourth.

James Cook | Buffalo

Range Available: Late Round 4, Early Round 5

Plan of Action: TARGET 

Notes: Last year, Cook was on a tear in the second half of the season. That could continue with a quick start in 2024. Stefon Diggs is gone, and Dalton Kincaid is steamed up.

Cook provides entry to one of the league’s best offenses. Buyer beware, though: Ray Davis is good. If Cook struggles with fumbles, Davis is a far greater threat to sap usage than we saw with Latavius Murray

Alvin Kamara | New Orleans

Range Available: Round 5

Plan of Action: FADE

Notes: I will pass on the 29-year-old Kamara. He was terrific at times last season, and New Orleans improved their OL, but this feels like a regression candidate. Kamara must deal with a new offensive coordinator, a healthy Kendre Miller, and the potential of increased snaps for Taysom Hill at RB. Call me an ageist all you want. 

Joe Mixon | Houston

Range Available: Round 5

Plan of Action: Structural Pick/TARGET. Solid late 5th Value.

Notes: Mixon is on a new team but has a lot of positives that are hard to ignore even to RB ageist drafters. Houston’s offense could be very strong. Unlike New Orleans, where Derek Carr is behind the center, C.J. Stroud will provide elite quarterback play. Mixon also has very little to deal with behind him. I do not mind taking him as an RB2. 

Kenneth Walker | Seattle

Range Available: Mid Round 5

Plan of Action: Not a player to reach for. Decent end of 5th if WR is dried up. Take when he falls to Round 6.

Notes: Walker is fine. He is being taken about where we would project him to return value. The fear here is the new coaching staff will use Zach Charbonnet in high value touch situations (receiving work, potential goal-line opportunities.) When Walker falls a round, I like taking the chance on him more than having to reach for him in early Round 5.

Aaron Jones | Minnesota

Range Available: Mid to Late Round 5/Early Round 6

Plan of Action: Fade

Notes: Jones is 29 years old and played 12 games last year. He is being drafted in this range because he was terrific in the NFL Playoffs.

He is now in a new offense and also has to deal with Ty Chandler. Chandler is familiar with the coaching staff, and his strong play to end last season most likely earned him weekly touches this season. I will pass on Jones this year.

Zamir White | Las Vegas

Range Available: Round 6

Plan of Action: TARGET

Notes: On paper, White would seem like an easy fade. His limited sample size (four games with a considerable workload) was strong, but he was non existent for the first two and a half seasons of his career. These sort of archetypes usually scream Dead Zone fade (think Alexander Mattison). But with White, the Raiders showed great faith in him with the moves they didn’t make this offseason. His only backfield competition is Mattison, Dylan Laube and Ameer Abdullah. Antonio Pierce speaks glowingly about “Zeus.” White could beat his RB ADP by five spots or more this year and is worth a shot in this range of the draft.

D’Andre Swift | Chicago

Range Available: Round 6

Plan of Action: FADE

Notes: Swift was a highly targeted Free Agent and signed with Chicago very early on as one of the first Free Agent signings in the NFL. The Chicago offense could be one of the most improved in football, with Caleb Williams set to lead an impressive group of receivers. Despite my enthusiasm for the Bears, I will pass on Swift at ADP. There are just too many mouths to feed in this offense for Swift to provide massive returns on his ADP. Roschon Johnson and Khalil Herbert also could make this backfield more committee-ish than Swift drafters would want to see. 

James Conner | Arizona 

Range Available: Round 7

Plan of Action: Fade

Notes: Conner was terrific last season. He rushed for career highs in rushing yardage and yards per carry. The issue with Conner is that he never plays a full allotment of games (13 in three out of the last four seasons), and at his age that is not a good trend. When you add in dynamic rookie Trey Benson into the mix, there are even more reasons to fade Conner. Benson is going to put serious pressure on this coaching staff for weekly touches. Let someone else draft Conner this season. 

Rhamondre Stevenson | New England 

Range Available: Round 7

Plan of Action: TARGET

Notes: Stevenson is at a discount this year compared to when drafters had to select him last year. While Antonio Gibson caps Stevenson’s receiving numbers, there is still much to like about his situation. The new coaching staff is going out of their way to praise Stevenson whenever they can.

New Head Coach Jerod Mayo has praised him and talked up his potential workload. Even with Gibson in town, the lack of proven weapons at WR will force New England to give Stevenson all that he can handle. He was an RB1 in 2022 and is a dark horse candidate to get back there this season.

Jonathon Brooks | Carolina

Range Available: Round 7

Plan of Action: Upside TARGET/RB2 for Anchor RB Builds

Notes: Brooks has history on his side. The first rookie RB selected in Redraft historically has been a strong bet (Jonathan Taylor, Najee Harris, Breece Hall, Bijan Robinson). Rachaad White thrived in a Dave Canales offense last season, and Brooks will benefit from an offensive approach that will feature him. There is a concern that he could struggle to get onto the field with a full workload coming off of a major knee injury, but all reports suggest he has a good shot to be ready for Week 1. Brooks has a true three down skill set. 

Zack Moss | Cincinnati 

Range Available: Round 7

Plan of Action: FADE

Notes: Moss theoretically could return a lot of value if he steps right into the Joe Mixon role. The issue I see with Moss is this backfield screams split. Second year running back Chase Brown should sap away a large amount of the RB targets and could see a larger workload on the ground than some fantasy managers would expect. There is a real chance that the second RB being drafted will lead this backfield in fantasy points. 

David Montgomery | Detroit

Range Available: Round 7

Plan of Action: TARGET

Notes: Do not expect Montgomery to be quite as good as last year. Jahmyr Gibbs should take a significant step forward in usage, and Montgomery could see a slight regression in rushing TDs. Still, this ADP is perfect for drafters looking to play catch up at RB or wanting to build on an RB strength.

The Ben Johnson led Detroit offense has produced two top 24 RB scorers for back-to-back seasons, and there is no reason to believe this year will be any different. Montgomery has high end RB2 potential with a high end RB3 price tag. PS – We want Lions this year. Simple game. 

Najee Harris | Pittsburgh

Range Available: Round 7

Plan of Action: FADE

Notes: Last year, Jaylen Warren was an ADP hit while Najee Harris was an ADP miss. Warren outscored his highly drafted teammate and dominated him in receptions. This year, drafters are back to drafting Harris again as Pittsburgh’s RB1. His ADP has corrected itself a great deal as Harris has fallen from the top of the Dead Zone to nearly out of it. Despite the discount, I will pass. If you want to draft a Pittsburgh Steeler, wait until Round 8 and select Warren. 

I will update this list as the summer moves along and ADPs shift. Hopefully this list can help you Navigate the Dead Zone in your fantasy football drafts.

For more from Theo Gremminger, check out this article – Best Handcuff RBs | Handcuff Running Back Rankings for 2024 (