Contract Year RBs in Fantasy Football

Every season, managers avoid picking certain players because they’re considered “risky.” Running backs often get injured too often, have previous season inefficiencies, or are reaching the well-known age cliff. Whatever the reason, we all have a list of players we simply don’t want to draft.

However, running backs in their contract year often present significant value in fantasy football. Despite recent underperformance, these players have historical trends showing a resurgence during their contract seasons. This article will explore why you should invest in such players, focusing on previous running backs in contract years like Tony Pollard, Josh Jacobs, Derrick Henry, and extending the analysis to two running backs that are in very similar positions in 2024.

Increased Motivation and Performance

  • Josh Jacobs: In his contract year, Jacobs led the NFL with over 1,600 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, significantly outperforming his previous season.
  • Derrick Henry: During his contract year, Henry rushed for over 2,000 yards, demonstrating a marked improvement driven by his motivation to secure his lucrative deal.

Maximized Usage by Teams

Tony Pollard: Entering his contract year (2022), Pollard was expected to take on a larger role in Dallas, especially with Ezekiel Elliott‘s departure. This increased workload translated to a career year, finishing as the RB8 in Fantasy PPR points with career highs in yards and touchdowns.

Teams often maximize the usage of talented running backs in their contract years. The term “workhorse” is usually coined in these make-or-break years since teams have no financial commitment to these players and will use them extensively.

Derrick Henry’s usage in 2018 went from 215 carries to 303 carries in 2019.

Josh Jacobs went from 217 carries to 340 in his 2022 breakout season.

Tony Pollard increased from 130 carries to 193 in 2022.

Proven Track Record and Bounce-Back Potential

Players with a history of success who have had a down year are prime candidates for a resurgence during their contract year. Their talent and experience often lead to significant bounce-backs in fantasy production.

Josh Jacobs: RB11 in 2021 → Contract Year → RB3 in 2022 Fantasy

Derrick Henry: RB15 in 2018 → Contract Year → RB5 in 2019 Fantasy

Tony Pollard: RB28 in 2021 → (E. Elliott Leaves + Contract Year) → RB8 in 2022 Fantasy

Market Inefficiencies

Fantasy managers may undervalue these players due to recent underperformance, creating a buying or “discount” opportunity in drafts. Securing these players at a discount can yield high returns if they bounce back. While not guaranteed, the financial motivation for running backs, historically one of the lower-paid positions in the NFL, can drive their performance.

Let’s check out a few of the running backs that are in contract years 

2024 Contract-Year Running Backs to Watch

Discover the top contract year running backs for fantasy football 2024, including Najee Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. Here is why these players are poised for bounce back seasons and how they can add value to your fantasy team.

Najee Harris

The Pittsburgh Steelers denied his 5th-year option, making him a free agent after the 2024 season. Despite a dip in production in 2023, Harris remains a highly talented back with a proven track record. Most of the fantasy community believes Jaylen Warren will take over, but Warren primarily handles receiving duties. Inside the red zone, where it matters most for fantasy points, Harris saw 67.9% of the rushing attempts compared to Warren’s 32.1%. Harris’s YPC (4.06) and touchdowns (8) increased from previous years. Entering his contract year, he is poised for a significant bounce-back.

Opportunity Range of Outcomes in 2024

Although Harris is losing passing game opportunities, Pittsburgh is likely to lean on him heavily, maximizing his usage and giving him ample opportunity to produce high fantasy numbers on the ground. I predict Harris will have a Josh Jacobs-type season, potentially reaching 300 touches and producing as a top-15 RB in 2024.

Rhamondre Stevenson

Although Stevenson’s 2023 campaign was not the player we saw in 2022. Stevenson deserves an honorable mention since he just signed a new deal this off-season with the New England Patriots. The Patriots and head coach Jerod Mayo believe in their 26-year-old running back. Mayo recently stated, “I think he’s one of the better backs in the league. There’s no doubt about it.” (PER: @coachspeakIndex on X.com)

Why you should buy into Stevenson:

New England’s fantasy assets are currently undervalued after a poor season. Stevenson is poised to reprove his talent in both the passing and rushing game. In 2022, he averaged nearly 5 yards per carry and had 69 receptions, finishing as RB7 in fantasy points.

Opportunity 

With New England likely to rely on him as their primary back, Stevenson’s workload, combined with a new offensive scheme and a fresh look behind center, should secure him another big year in 2024. Locking him into a contract can lead to fantasy championships for managers.

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