Three Underrated & Three Overrated 2024 RB Prospects

This is not viewed as a particularly strong group of running backs. There’s no first-round prospect in this class, let alone two top-12 picks like last year. The first back might not even come off the board until after the top 50 picks, or even after the first two rounds. 

That doesn’t mean there will be zero good backs to enter the league this year, however. We’ve seen quality running backs come from all kinds of places and it’s a part of why the way the NFL has valued the position has changed in the past two decades. This year should be no different. While there are some potential landmines to avoid in this batch of backs, there are gems to be found, too. 

As a part of our series examining underrated and overrated players in the upcoming 2024 NFL Draft, today we’ll dive deeper into this running back class. Overrated versus underrated is all relative to perception, so we’re looking for players who seem most likely to either over-perform or under-perform their ranking on the consensus big boards. Here’s one from the Athletic with the top 100 players, and another from NFL Mock Draft Database.

Here’s the rest of our series on overrated and underrated players: 

Underrated: Alabama RB Jase McClellan

It feels a little weird putting a back from an NFL powerhouse like Alabama in the “underrated” section. But McClellan is entering the league without the same impressive resume many former Crimson Tide backs have compiled. The former four-star recruit battled injuries and depth chart competition throughout his tenure and didn’t get the chance to operate as the lead back until this past season when he also played through a foot injury. He rushed 180 times for 890 yards and eight touchdowns, hardly the gaudy statistics other Bama backs have put up. 

However, I think McClellan could be a player who is better as a pro than as a college player. He’s got excellent size at 5-10 and 220 pounds. He was unable to test during the pre-draft process this spring due to the foot injury but back in high school, he timed in the mid 4.5s in the 40, which would be an adequate speed for his size. 

What stands out about McClellan on film is his vision, his fluidity at his size and his reliable hands in the passing game. McClellan sees the picture well in the backfield and can quickly diagnose the best course of action. He’s adept at setting up unblocked defenders while in the hole, pressing for a couple of steps one way to lure them into the path of a blocker, then cutting back into the resulting opening. 

McClellan has some wiggle for a big back and more often than not can make the first defender miss. As you’d expect for his size, he’s also strong against contact. In the passing game, he has soft hands and can catch the ball away from his frame. He transitions quickly from receiver to runner which helps him maximize yards after the catch. 

Overall, McClellan is probably a late-round pick in April, but he has an intriguing blend of physical skills that could help him carve out a role. I don’t love comparing players who went to the same program but Alabama does have a clear type at running back. There are a lot of parallels between McClellan and Commanders RB Brian Robinson.

Overrated: Wisconsin RB Braelon Allen

Allen has been one of the most prolific backs in college football since stepping on campus in Madison, rushing for over 1,200 yards in each of his first two seasons. It’s even more impressive because he was initially recruited as a linebacker before changing to offense. Allen is an enormous back at 6-1 and pushing 240 pounds, and he was a perfect fit for Wisconsin’s old school, pro-style running game. 

The Badgers switched to a spread offense under new HC Luke Fickell in 2023 and Allen wasn’t nearly as clean of a fit. He rushed for less than 1,000 yards last season, though he did get more volume in the passing game. Allen declared for the draft early, which was probably the right move. He has name recognition from his early success and currently is projected in the late third to early fourth on the consensus big boards. At just 20 years old, starting the clock for a second contract as soon as possible is prudent. 

Still, he’s going to need to land in a very specific situation to have anything like the impact he had in college. Most NFL offenses look more like Wisconsin’s system in 2023 than they do before, despite the differing reputations. Allen is an old-school back in a modern league — a classic two-down, between-the-tackles pounder with some breakaway speed. Heavy formations with gap runs from under center are Allen’s best friend, not shotgun schemes with a limited runway to get up to speed. 

While Allen has some reps that look like what you’d expect from a back his size, there are also a lot of plays where he goes down shockingly easy against contact. He’s drawn comparisons to Derrick Henry because of his size and running style, but he’s closer to Packers RB AJ Dillon honestly. Fumbles also became an issue in his final year. 

Allen is not incompetent in the passing game. He’s not the most natural receiver but he’s improved in this area and is capable in the short ranges of the field. One of the best attributes of his game is actually his pass protection. He’s a force when protecting the quarterback, stoning blitzing linebackers and even defensive linemen in their tracks. In this part of his game, he’s not unlike Dillon either. 

The good news is the teams that would fit Allen the most schematically are also the most likely to draft him. He’d be a good fit with what the Chargers are doing, for instance. However, without that kind of landing spot, I think there’s a good chance Allen will disappoint compared to the hype he had a year ago. 

Underrated: Washington RB Dillon Johnson

Johnson transferred to Washington from Mississippi State this past year and instantly became a massive part of the Huskies’ national championship team. He rushed for just under 1,200 yards in 14 games and scored 16 times. Johnson showed off his toughness late in the season to stay in the lineup despite multiple injuries. 

The senior back also has one of the most extensive resumes in the passing game of any back in this class with 173 career receptions, most of them from his first three seasons at Mississippi State in an Air Raid offense. However, a 4.68-second 40-yard dash at the Combine seems like it has kneecapped his stock after a breakout season. A time like that almost certainly pushes Johnson to the late rounds. 

From there, he has the potential to become the latest unheralded back to exceed the NFL’s modest expectations. Johnson is a rugged back who is tough to bring down. It does not matter if it’s a defensive back, linebacker or defensive lineman, a reach instead of a hit or wrap will not bring Johnson down on first contact.

He’s comfortable in tight spaces and has good vision in the variety of different run schemes Washington ran last season. Johnson did a good job of manipulating defenders to set up his blocks. He has good agility, including in the open field, and while he certainly doesn’t have breakaway speed, he’s fast enough to turn the corner and break off significant chunk runs. 

While Washington didn’t use him in the passing game nearly as much as Mississippi State, Johnson still displayed reliable hands. He’s versatile, rugged, tough and crafty — the exact kind of player who can carve out a solid NFL career no matter where he started. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of former veteran RB Fred Jackson, who overcame going undrafted and a stint in NFL Europe to play nine years and rack up over 8,000 yards from scrimmage. 

Overrated: Oregon RB Bucky Irving

Coming in just a little outside the top 100 in the consensus big boards, Irving has some hype after back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons at Oregon. Irving isn’t big but he fits the profile of speedy scatback that’s easy to get excited about, especially given his potential to contribute in the passing game. Irving also has some highlight plays where he’s better against contact than you’d expect for a sub-200 pound player. 

A closer inspection of Irving’s game reveals some issues, however. For a scatback, he’s not actually that fast. There are clues on tape, like a tunnel screen against Utah in 2022 where he had a clear path to the end zone after breaking through the first wave and an apparent angle on the defender. However, he cut it back toward the middle, which is often what players who aren’t confident in their long speed do instead of mashing the sprint button. Irving ran the 40 at the Combine and confirmed that assessment with a 4.55-second time. 

And while there are moments on tape where Irving is elusive and better against contact than you’d expect, ultimately there are just mathematical constraints of force that he’s subjected to being only 5-9 and 190 pounds. Irving is shifty and he does a good job of shifting his body to reduce the surface area for defenders to hit. He does not have the mass to play with true power, however. 

Irving’s vision when running between the tackles can be inconsistent. He had 87 catches the past two seasons at Oregon but a lot of those were manufactured touches and not necessarily plays that asked him to beat man coverage. There are other scatbacks I like more, such as…

Underrated: New Hampshire RB Dylan Laube

Laube earned an invitation to the 2024 Senior Bowl, which was massive for him on a few levels. He tore up the competition at New Hampshire but because it was an FCS school, there would naturally be questions about how Laube would handle the jump in competition. By most accounts, Laube more than held his own at the Senior Bowl, checking off a big box in the process. 

He checked another box at the NFL Scouting Combine, weighing in at 5-9, 206 pounds, which is sturdy enough to alleviate some size questions. His 4.54-second 40 time was average but Laube really shined in the agility drills, running a 4.02-second short shuttle and 6.84-second three-cone drill. He notched a 37-inch vertical and threw up 23 reps in the bench press for good measure. 

So Laube is an established NFL-level athlete who has succeeded against NFL-level competition. That validates the best part of his resume — his tape and production. Laube dominated at New Hampshire, especially in the passing game. He racked up nearly 1,800 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns, more than some receiving prospects who will be drafted way ahead of him. It wasn’t junk production either. Laube runs routes like a slot receiver and has reps where he’s winning against cornerbacks on downfield routes. He’d be a viable NFL prospect even if he switched positions. 

Overrated: Florida State RB Trey Benson

I should qualify this by saying I still think Benson is top five at his position in this class and has compelling physical tools. But if he is the first or second running back off the board like a lot of projections right now, I think there’s some downside. 

There’s a lot to like about Benson’s game. He’s got an outstanding combination of size and speed at 6-0, 216 pounds and 4.39 seconds in the 40. Benson was a big play merchant at Florida State in both the rushing and passing game. He plays to his speed on tape and finishes through contact. His athleticism, production, age and pedigree from a major school check all the boxes teams are looking for with Day 2 picks at the running back position. 

In my opinion, however, Benson’s game has some trap doors. The general theme is that while Benson is great in some areas, he falls short of being a complete back. He was always in a committee at Florida State, sharing the load with Lawrence Toafili and barely topping 150 carries each of the past two seasons. Perhaps there were recruiting politics at play there but an NFL team might be cautious about how much it puts on Benson’s shoulders. 

While he’s a big-play runner who excels on runs to the outside, Benson is not quite as good on interior runs when the picture gets muddy. He’s at his best when he has time to both assess his options and build up some steam. Ask him to think or react quickly and he sometimes can’t keep up. Fortunately, the NFL’s shift back to more gap-blocking instead of zone-blocking schemes should help ease that transition. Benson needs work in the passing game as well, particularly as a blocker. While he has good body control, his hands and routes need further development too. 

Buccaneers RB Rachaad White and Jaguars RB Travis Etienne are two players that come to mind when I think about Benson’s imminent transition to the NFL. Both are talented players who have had big seasons with well over 1,000 yards from scrimmage, but both have also been largely inefficient runners from touch to touch. They survive largely because they’re such great athletes, and there’s a place for that in the NFL at the running back position. There’s just less staying power. 

I expect Benson to be a Day 2 pick and to have at least one 1,000-yard season in his first few seasons. But I think there’s a greater chance than some of the other top backs that he does not sign a new contract with the team that drafts him and could find himself out of a job sooner than other fellow draft classmates. 

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  1. These are good choices. Still, I think Missouri’s Cody Schrader will find a way to get meaningful yards in meaningful games during his career.

  2. I’ve been ‘banging the drum’ for ‘Bama RB Jase McClellan to the GMEN for a couple of months now.

    ‘Bama RB Jase McClellan is a bigger version of newly signed GMEN RB Devin Singletary.

    Could probably be had very late in the 5th Round, definitely somewhere in the 6th Round.

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