Tier 1: Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkely, Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry
Tier 2: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Aaron Jones, Nick Chubb, Austin Ekeler, Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake, Miles Sanders, Chris Carson, Joe Mixon
Tier 3: Todd Gurley, David Johnson, Melvin Gordon, James Conner, Raheem Mostert, Cam Akers, Jonathan Taylor, JK Dobbins, Antonio Gibson, Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay, Leonard Fournette
Tier 4: Le’Veon Bell, David Montgomery, Devin Singletary, Tarik Cohen, Kareem Hunt, Damien Harris, James White, Jordan Howard, D'Andre Swift, Ronald Jones
Tier 5: Kerryon Johnson, Darrell Henderson, Zack Moss, Tevin Coleman, Latavius Murray, Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Carlos Hyde, Jerick McKinnon
Tier 6: Alexander Mattison, Tony Pollard, Boston Scott, Duke Johnson, Nyheim Hines, Marlon Mack, Justin Jackson, Sony Michel, Bryce Love
Analysis & Draft Strategy:
Year after year, elite running backs consistently serve as the most valuable commodity in fantasy football. The number of elite fantasy RBs has diminished over time, with time shares replacing bell cow RBs across many NFL offenses. But if you have a chance to snag a tier 1 RB with your first round pick, you shouldn’t hesitate to do so.
Christian McCaffrey unquestionably sits at the top of the list, and he nearly sat in his own tier. However, significant regression will likely be in store from last year’s 19 TDs (think 12 or so TDs for 2020), so he keeps his 1.1 spot but shares the tier with the other top RBs. Other RBs on the TD regression watch list include Derrick Henry, Aaron Jones and Todd Gurley.
The tier 2 group should fly off draft boards starting in late round 1 through the end of round 2. Tier 2 lacks the high end ceiling of the tier 1 folks, as this group either lacks the same access to touches as the tier 1 folks or has a limited role in the passing game. Tier 3 has serious talent among the group, but questions abound. Will Todd Gurley’s knee hold up? How will David Johnson fit into the Texans’ offense? Will the rookie RBs get enough carries to make a mark? Do Le’Veon Bell and Leonard Fournette offer any remaining upside?
As for your RB strategy, you should undoubtedly snag your top RB from tier 1 or 2, with your second RB from no lower than tier 3. The tier 4 group has too many question marks to be relied upon as weekly starters, so don’t wait too long on selecting your RBs.
Finally, quick hits on three RBs whom I expect will outperform their ADP, and are therefore reflected higher in my rankings:
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs – The lead running back in a high powered Chiefs offense quarterbacked by Captain Patrick Mahomes? Yes, please! Edwards-Helaire had my attention prior to Damien Williams opting out of the 2020 season. Now, the lust only grows stronger. If you were in a lab designing an RB for Andy Reid’s offense, Edwards-Helaire would closely resemble the prototype. While not a bruiser, he’s a shifty runner and a very capable receiver out of the backfield, able to run a fairly complete RB route tree. Edwards-Helaire sat towards the back of tier 2 prior to Damien Williams’ opt out, but now he commands the pole position. I’m comfortable taking CEH as early as the back end of round 1 in leagues with an element of PPR (0.5 to 1 PPR) in their scoring systems.
Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams – While this season will be tougher than most for rookies due to the cancelled offseason programs, meaning less time for acclimation, running backs are the position on offense that will be least impacted. CEH led off the target list, and we now move to Los Angeles with eyes on talented Florida State alum Cam Akers. With Todd Gurley gone to Atlanta, the Rams’ first RB chair has a glaring vacancy. Akers will be battling for carries with second year RB Darrell Henderson and veteran Malcolm Brown. While it can be dangerous to make a firm determination just off a rookie season, Henderson appears to be more of a complimentary, change of pace RB than a bell cow. After several years of observing Brown in the NFL, he appears to be a solid backup, but that’s it. Following the 2020 NFL draft, Rams’ scouts indicated that Akers was prioritized on the team’s draft board since he’s viewed as a capable every down runner. Akers sat near the top of the list in the NCAA in broken tackles, which translates well to the NFL. Also, Florida State ran an offense steeped with zone rushing, which fits in well with the Rams current offensive game plan – so Akers’ integration into the Rams offense should be smooth. Combine these points with the likelihood of Akers getting the bulk of the carries for the Rams, including goal line action, and you get a solid RB2. Akers won’t make significant hay in the passing game, but he’s got a high floor overall. As such, he’s my second highest ranked rookie RB.
J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens – With CEH and Cam Akers in my spotlight as ADP beaters, we stay in the rookie pool but move a bit deeper for our third and final running back. Unlike the first two RBs, Ohio State rookie alum J.K. Dobbins enters the 2020 season as a clear backup. Ahead of him sits veteran RB Mark Ingram, and likely Gus Edwards – at least to start training camp. Dobbins achieved stardom with the Buckeyes, placing number two all time in rushing behind two time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin. Dobbins has lightening speed, but also a frame that can hold up as a three down back. Importantly, Dobbins serves as a weapon out of the backfield as well. So given the totality of the situation, Dobbins falls into the “take a flier and see what happens” category. His 2020 contribution to your team ranges from minimal to potential league winner. If Dobbins can vault up to the lead backup spot behind Ingram to start the season, then he’s an injury away from stepping into the best rushing offense in the NFL. At the time of this writing, Dobbins’ ADP sits at 114 per ESPN (so 10th – 12th round). Target him as early as round 9 as a high upside lottery ticket, as opposed to taking a low upside, retread player at any of the skill positions. [UPDATE: SINCE I WROTE THIS SECTION ON JK DOBBINS, HIS ADP HAS JUMPED SUBSTANTIALLY. I SUPPORT DRAFTING DOBBINS AS EARLY AS YOUR FOURTH ROUND PICK (FOR 12 TEAM LEAGUES) OR YOUR FIFTH ROUND PICK (FOR 10 TEAM LEAGUES).
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