MOBILE, Ala. -- Rookie running backs pop in Fantasy Football every single season. Not too frequently do they come through the Senior Bowl first. Najee Harris, who became a first-rounder thanks in part to his Senior Bowl appearance, is an example.
But running backs who take their time and become mainstays by their second year or later? The Senior Bowl grows those kinds of running backs like grapes on a vine. Rachaad White, James Cook, Rhamondre Stevenson, Khalil Herbert, Brian Robinson and hopefully Tyjae Spears, Roschon Johnson and Chase Brown are all running backs who shined at the week of Senior Bowl practices -- and those names cover just the prior three years!
It's a smart idea to know the names of the Senior Bowl running backs coming into the NFL so that when their opportunities arrive you'll have a baseline idea of what to expect from them. But for Fantasy managers looking long term, it's especially important since so many recent names have blossomed into Fantasy mainstays after their first year.
I'll compare a few rushers from the 2024 group to those who previously played before going on to the NFL.
The next Brian Robinson: MarShawn Lloyd, USC
Arguably the top running back prospect in practice all week, Lloyd packs physicality into his game but is also patient and shifty enough to cut away from defenders and bounce outside for extended plays. He might even have Robinson beat in terms of receiving chops coming out of school -- Lloyd shined there during Senior Bowl practices this week. He also held on to the football all week -- a huge plus considering he had 10 fumbles over his career. Lloyd did not play in the Senior Bowl game.
It's no surprise that Lloyd was voted by his Senior Bowl teammates as his team's top running back.
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The Cowboys reset their running back depth chart and put Lloyd in a timeshare with a veteran. In time, Lloyd's fresh legs, power and versatility put him ahead of a veteran and into the lead running back position behind an evolving O-line that should remain solid.
The next David Johnson: Dylan Laube, New Hampshire
As a prospect, Johnson's speed and pass-catching ability separated him from most of the other running backs in his class. Laube has a lot of work to do to get to that point, but his Senior Bowl showing was nothing short of outstanding. Built like a fire hydrant (he's much shorter than Johnson), Laube dazzled as a pass-catcher all week, but he also was timed as the fastest running back (and the third-fastest player) on Day 1 of practice when he hit an edge run at 20.59 miles per hour. He barely played in the Senior Bowl game.
Laube's elusiveness needs to be studied further, and his age is an obvious deterrent -- he'll be 25 before the end of the 2024 season.
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Laube needs a landing spot with a team that needs a pass-catching running back pronto. An element of Bryce Young's game that went missing as a rookie was throwing to his running backs, which he did plenty in college. Laube would instantly be a fit with the Panthers, who are a little light on pass-catchers at any position. New head coach and play caller Dave Canales leaned on his running backs in the passing game in Tampa Bay a ton last year. I'd argue there would also be potential for Laube to become a feature back there, too.
The next Rhamondre Stevenson: Ray Davis, Kentucky
Davis is a prototypical power back -- 5-foot-8, 220 pounds of chiseled power. But during the week's practices, he made sensational receptions every single day. And we're not talking about check-downs, we're talking about flare routes where he extended over his head for the ball while also getting his feet in, and a one-handed leap down the seam. Davis also was willing to work on kick returns and as a protector on punts, both examples of him being willing to do whatever it takes to play. If there's a downside to Davis, it's his age -- he's among the oldest prospects at the Senior Bowl and will be 25 years old before the end of the 2024 season. He did not play in the Senior Bowl game.
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It's unlikely Davis will immediately shine as a feature back, but he could be a power-back option as part of a duo. The Ravens would get substantially younger by entrusting Davis in that role, having him pair up with an ACL-healed Keaton Mitchell. Plus Davis could add his pass-catching element to the offense, even if that means just a couple of catches each week. That would force defenses to respect him when he leaves the backfield on a route.
Don't forget: Emani Bailey, TCU
You might have seen Bailey get each of the first five touches for the American team during the Senior Bowl game. That was a great opportunity for Bailey to play a lot as the American team was down to two healthy running backs by the time kickoff came around. During the week's worth of practices, Bailey was seen having good burst and speed on his routes and after his catches, but he struggled with physicality. It's also worth noticing that Bailey did a lot of dancing in the backfield during the actual Senior Bowl game, bringing his vision into question.
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It's tough to believe Bailey will be a feature back in the NFL like he was at TCU (248 touches last year). But if he's paired with a physical power-back like James Conner in Arizona then he could ultimately be an upgrade on what Emari Demercado did in 2023. Same thing as a complementary weapon to Rachaad White in Tampa Bay.