The running back position unlike years prior have been is relatively easy to attack this season. We are able to make this statement because of the strategy we like to promote and deploy ourselves and that is focus on the position in the early to mid-rounds. By the time we reach the late rounds of drafts (rounds 10 and later) we want to have four solid backs we are comfortable rolling out at any given week. We want this because after round ten you will be throwing darts at players hoping to get some valuable fantasy production. So by focusing on the position early you are ensuring yourself a solid to great stable of backs to deploy each and every week. Now after round ten there will be some intriguing options, but those are more for upside plays later in the season, rather than having to play them out of necessity every week which would be disastrous. In this article we will look at our first four tiers of running backs and offer the players we like out of each tier the most. We will begin with the Elite tier which is made up of only two players.
Now, unlike last year where we could have made the case for four players to be taken as the number one back, this season we have two to choose from. The consensus is going with McCaffrey which is fair since he is coming off arguably the best season any fantasy back has ever seen. In 16 games played in 2019 CMC only finished outside the top ten at the position twice. That consistency is what we are looking for in our fantasy players, especially first round picks. The coaching staff has stated they want to limit his usage, and scale back his work, but looking at the depth chart and what’s behind him (Reggie Bonnafon and Mike Davis) that isn’t going to happen. CMC gets an offensive coordinator in Joe Brady who comes over from LSU after orchestrating arguably the best offense college football has ever seen. His scheme made the running back a star, look at Clyde Edwards-Helaire from last year. It also doesn’t hurt McCaffrey that he gets captain check down Teddy Bridgewater under center. However, we only have McCaffrey ranked second entering 2020 because we feel his best season is behind him compared to the guy we find a top our board who we feel has his best season coming.
Saquon Barkley finds himself a top our rankings for 2020 just edging out McCaffrey. Despite missing three games in 2019 due to injury Barkley still managed to finish as a top 12 back in PPR leagues. Most of Barkley’s numbers dropped last season which is expected playing 3 fewer games than in his rookie year. The offensive line play also hurt Barkley’s production a bit as they underwhelmed, which is evident when you look how his yards before contact dropped from 2.2 to 1.8. Barkley did however manage to maintain the same 2.8 yards after contact per attempt he had the year prior. Now Barkley gets an offensive coordinator in Jason Garrett who likes to utilize the running back a lot in his offense. Despite being a former quarterback himself Garrett likes a heavy dose of the ground game. This bodes well for Barkley and we envision big rushing numbers for Barkley in year three. If you are fortunate enough to be drafting out of the top two both these guys would be fine to get, but we lean Barkley slightly.
Out of this next tier we see three backs that have all been fantasy studs at one point or another over the last few seasons. Zeke has proven to have one of the highest floors at the position but a limited ceiling. This is what keeps Zeke out of that Elite tier of Barkley and McCaffrey. Zeke has only finished as a weekly top 10 back in 51% of his games played. Kellen Moore the offensive coordinator of Dallas likes to utilize the passing attack a lot more than Garrett ever did. The unfortunate thing is Zeke won’t be used as a pass catcher much in this offense. In fact, from 2018 to 2019 Zeke saw a 30% decrease in receptions. In 2018 he had 77, which likely will be his career high, and dropped down to 54 in 2019. We do like Zeke’s rushing touchdowns to match his rookie season total of 15 in 2020 however, which will help offset the loss of passing down work.
Dalvin Cook is a slam dunk top pick in drafts, IF there isn’t a threat of a holdout. We think he ultimately plays all 16 games in 2020, due to the fact that the new CBA makes it tough on players to holdout. Cook has no leverage as he has injury history and a quality back behind him in Mattison who can step in and be close to what Cook is production wise. Cook finished third at the position in PPR leagues in 2019 despite missing 2 games with a nagging shoulder sprain. Cook has already stated he is aiming for 2000+ total yards, which is possible in this scheme, as he would have flirted with that total last year if he didn’t miss time.
The back we really like in this tier is Alvin Kamara. Many look at the 67% touchdown regression and are immediately scared off. That’s great be turned off because you will be passing on an Elite talent who figures to bounce back in 2020. Kamara despite playing the season well under 80% self admittedly somehow managed to improve in yards after contact per attempt, going from 2.8 in 2018 to 3.2 in 2019. Now Kamara doesn’t offer that same safe floor as Zeke, but his ceiling and upside is higher due to his involvement in the passing attack. We can pencil Kamara in for 81 catches on the nose in our projections right? We say this because his three years as a pro have seen him finish with 81 catches every year. This usage in the passing attack as well as a likely uptick in touchdowns makes Kamara the back to target out of this tier. If you are in the middle of round one and Kamara somehow falls to you rejoice and celebrate because there is no way he should fall past pick 5.
We really like two backs out of this tier entering 2020, and for those of you drafting from picks 9 to 12 can likely have them both with your first two picks. We have completed this move many times in drafts, where you nab Joe Mixon in the first then come back around and nab Miles Sanders early in the second. These two figure to be very heavily involved in their perspective offenses. Despite Mixon starting the year off sluggish and disappointing in 2019 he finished the season strong. In weeks 1-8 Mixon was the 31st ranked running back in PPR leagues averaging 10 fantasy points per game. From weeks 10-16, after the week 9 bye Mixon was the 6th ranked running back averaging 16.4 fantasy points a game. It was during those weeks that Mixon saw his average attempts climb from 12 a game to 22. This uptick in carries then created an uptick in his average rush yards per game, which climbed from 40 yards per game to 102 yards per game. With a slightly better line in front of him and the coaching staff knowing how to utilize him we are very bullish on Mixon in 2020, as we like that late season success to continue.
Miles Sanders is the other guy we are very bullish on as he enters his sophomore season. Early in 2019 Sanders took a back seat to Jordan Howard who isn’t there anymore. Sanders from weeks 1-8 ranked as the RB26. From weeks 9-16 Sanders ranked as the 7th running back in PPR leagues. Sanders talent rose to the top after week eight and the team knew they needed his talent on the field as they lacked talent in the passing game due to injury at the WR position. Sanders saw snaps, targets, and yards all rise in the second half of the season. Even in a limited role to start the season Sanders still caught 50 balls for 509 yards while also rushing 179 times for over 800 yards. Sanders also found the end zone 6 times as a rookie. We like this production to continue into 2020.
Out of this tier we are targeting two running backs that we like, and we bet they aren’t who you think. The first we are targeting is Melvin Gordon. Now we aren’t targeting him because we feel he will be better than Aaron Jones or Josh Jacobs this season, we are targeting him because of the value. Jones will be gone by the time we are looking at Gordon, as Gordon typically is going somewhere in the mid to late third round. Many are down on Gordon because they feel Phillip Lindsay will eat into his production. The fact is Denver didn’t pay Gordon what they did not to be their bell cow. Yes, Lindsay will see some work, but not enough to hinder Gordon. Melvin is a good runner and an even better pass catcher. The team has been longing for a back of this caliber for years and we think it’s a great marriage for 2020 production that will net solid RB2 numbers.
We are also looking to actively target a rookie back in this tier no that back is not Clyde Edwards-Helaire. We are targeting Jonathan Taylor who we like to get out of the gate fast. Taylor will likely assume the majority of the early down / goal line work in this offense. He is a superior talent when comparing him to Marlon Mack, who we figure will assume most of the passing down work. Taylor will be running behind the best offensive line in football so we are projecting 250 carries for Taylor in year one. He can be had in the 4th to 5th round in redrafts so the value is great.
Clyde Edwards-Elaire figures to emerge later in the season, as was the case with Miles Sanders last season. So he will be frustrating for owners that take him at his current ADP of a late second rounder. No value to be had there. Drake is going too early in our eyes as well. He is being drafted at the end of round one early round 2 ahead of Miles Sanders and Aaron Jones and he shouldn’t be. Drake was great during the fantasy playoffs finishing week 15 #1 at the position and week 16 #3 at the position. However, he is still that same boom or bust player we grew to hate in Miami. Between weeks 10-14 Drake ranked as the 31st running back, putting up weekly finishes of 21, 18, 44, and 35. The inconsistency week to week is enough for us to pass on him and his current price tag.