2024 Injury Breakdowns: Running Backs Returning from Injury

Jeff Mueller

Every NFL season comes with star players finding their way onto season-ending IR and question marks through the off-season and preseason as they near the following season. This series discusses key details in the player’s current recovery tract and injury projections for the 2024 seasons and for their dynasty value.

Let’s dive in.

De’Von Achane, RB MIA

Let’s start this one with a take that will make me lose some fans – Achane has a high-risk profile regarding injuries. In his first year he dealt with an AC sprain in the preseason after having a defender land on him hard into the ground, a MCL sprain that cost him four games, a toe sprain that limited him in-game, and a rib injury that continued to limit him in-game. He had a few games of high volume upside, but that is likely going to be a rarity for him.

He is extremely explosive and a dynamic threat any time he touches the ball, which makes him a perfect match for Mike McDaniels’ offensive scheme. Given his profile, I just don’t think he is built for being a weekly 15-touch back, meaning he is likely going to be boom/bust for fantasy purposes. There is no problem with that, unless said player is valued as the dynasty RB6. I suppose you could make arguments against all of the running backs listed behind him and continue drafting Achane in that range, but you would also be passing by a lot of high-end wide receivers over him. Personally, it is not worth the cost and I would rather fade his injury profile in favor of someone like Saquon Barkley or Josh Jacobs. If I’m wrong, you can come yell at me @jmthrivept on Twitter.

Javonte Williams, RB DEN

First off, Williams had a fairly bad season in his first year coming off his significant ACL, LCL, and PLC injury. He returned for preseason and was active week one, which may have been a bit too early and rushed. His efficiency lacked all season, though he seemed to improve a little bit towards the end of the season. In theory, he should have a much better season on a per-touch basis in his second year following the injury, but it will come down to if Sean Payton trusts him with the workload. While I trust Williams, I do not trust Payton, so I would be cautious in acquiring him for dynasty purposes. He likely falls into the category of “I would rather have a WR instead of him” range in the running back groups.

Nick Chubb, RB CLE

I do not quite understand Chubb’s Best Ball ADP in round eight or nine. It seems that managers are expecting him, at age 28 years old, to bounce back and produce near low-end RB2 numbers. Sorting through the takes from analysts, it seems that many are operating as if this injury was solely an ACL reconstruction due to several reports indicating that the injury was not as bad as originally expected. Those reports are drastically undervaluing the fact that he also had a meniscus repair surgery first, which also allowed his MCL tear to heal, and then he had his ACL surgery around six weeks later.

What likely is not being reported is that there is a high probability that there was also capsular damage and secondary stabilizer damage, similar to what both JK Dobbins and Javonte Williams dealt with. I believe that the Browns are protecting themselves if Chubb is never the same, bringing in several running backs including D’Onta Foreman. He is not a running back you bring in if you are assuming that your prior RB1 is going to be healthy to start the season. This is a situation I would prefer to avoid and I would advise caution against some of the advice that has been posted about acquiring him for this season or dynasty.

Austin Ekeler, RB WAS

This is one where I am personally torn on fading versus believing in a bounce-back for the 2024 season. Ekeler performed fairly well in the first game of the season, but then suffered a high ankle sprain that seemed to have affected his per-touch efficiency throughout the rest of the season. My main question is, is it plausible for the high ankle sprain to have impacted him for the entirety of the rest of the season, or should he have been able to return to prior form late in season? If it was not the high ankle, is his age catching up to him and impacting his efficiency?

The most likely scenario is that both had been limiting his ability to perform at a high level and that we should not expect to see his prior form return. Washington is likely getting an Antonio Gibson-plus in adding Ekeler in tandem with Brian Robinson. I would not be eager to pursue an aging running back in dynasty, but I will invest in Ekeler in BestBall or redraft leagues and hope that a lesser volume amount will keep his legs fresh for each touch.

Tony Pollard, RB TEN

Speaking of regression in efficiency per touch, Pollard notably struggled early in-season coming off of his Tightrope procedure. The good news is that towards the end of the season, his efficiency began to improve, however now he finds himself in a very different situation. Tennessee does not necessarily have a great offensive line, granted they have invested in upgrades while taking advantage of Will Levis’ rookie contract. Spears was significantly more efficient per touch and better in the red zone than Pollard was last season. If Pollard and Tyjae Spears cost the exact same amount in dynasty, I am not sure which back I would prefer to take but at this point, I would lean toward Spears and bank on his knee holding up in this 1A, 1B situation between the two similar running backs.

Kenneth Walker, RB SEA

While not having sustained a significant injury lately, Walker is on watch for future groin and soft tissue injuries given his mechanics. He has already dealt with a sports hernia surgery and a secondary groin strain that has cost him time. While extremely impressive as a rusher when healthy, I do believe these soft tissue injuries will catch up with him. In that scenario, Zach Charbonnet will be the running back you will want to have stashed. If you do have Walker, I would not entirely worry about his sustained value considering he still has two years left on his rookie contract. Just be prepared to absorb some missed time.

Hopefully this information is helpful. Feel free to follow me @jmthrivept for injury content.

jeff mueller