Top 80 Running Backs For 2020

Erik Smith ranks his top 80 running backs for the 2020 season, with ranks updated on August 30.

Tier 5: Rocket League


21. Cam Akers (Los Angeles Rams) – This marks the beginning of a tier that could rocket through the rankings at light speed, with some players going upwards and some downwards. I want to rank Cam Akers aggressively, as the 2nd round rookie out of Florida State finds himself in a dream situation, so he lands at 21. And frankly, I would much rather skip some names ahead of him in my rankings and pick him up a round or two later. Akers finds himself in an offense that just produced 14 total touchdowns for Todd Gurley despite a lackluster showing from the running back, offensive line, and quarterback. With only an already dinged-up Darrell Henderson and lackluster veteran Malcolm Brown providing his only competition, Akers has a chance to take over this backfield from Week 1. The big question–can Akers approach 81 targets like Gurley did in 2018 or is Gurley’s 49 targets and 207 receiving yards from 2019 more representative of this backfield going forward.


22. Mark Ingram II (Baltimore Ravens) – Mark Ingram II is a rock-solid choice in drafts despite the addition of rookie J.K. Dobbins (more on him in a moment). Ingram probably won’t win you your league, as even without much competition last year Ingram was more of a back end RB1. But he should be a solid weekly play that will always be a threat to score in this dynamic Ravens offense. Ingram could be touchdown-dependent this year (just 29 targets in 2019) and a Dobbins breakout could push Ingram more into the RB3 range. But a season approaching double-digit touchdowns and 1,000 yards on the ground is certainly in the cards for Ingram.


23. David Johnson (Houston Texans) – I really just don’t want to draft David Johnson this year. Maybe head coach Bill O’Brien tries to make his foolish trade look justifiable by feeding Johnson, but I’m worried about Johnson’s health after he just didn’t look good last year in Arizona last year. Duke Johnson remains in Houston, who soaked up 62 targets last year. Carlos Hyde, who David Johnson replaces, only saw 16 targets in 2019. Do we really expect Deshaun Watson to suddenly become a check-down specialist? If not, how many targets are in the cards for DJ (David, not Duke, this is annoying Texans)? I’m worried David Johnson’s 2020 season won’t look much better than Hyde’s 2019, making him overpriced in my eyes.


24. Le’Veon Bell (New York Jets) – Another player I don’t really want to draft, but their potential volume makes them worthy of a top-24 ranking, is Le’Veon Bell. If Bell was in an offense that used him creatively in the passing game in a volume role, I’d be more excited. He’s lost a step since his Pittsburgh days, although that excellent offensive line may have been an equally big part of his success. Adam Gase and Bell don’t really get along, and now Gase brings in his buddy, the ageless Frank Gore, to be a thorn in Bell’s side. And while I’m not particularly high on La’Mical Perine, bringing in a fourth-round rookie isn’t ideal for Bell either. Bell is yet another running back where I will be taking a receiver if he is my best option on the board.


25. Kareem Hunt (Cleveland Browns) – The first running back in the rankings without the starting job on his own team is Kareem Hunt. The appeal of Hunt is two-fold; he’s a stand-alone option that averaged 5.5 targets per game last year after returning from suspension, while also being one of the league’s elite handcuffs. You could argue that Hunt would have more upside if Nick Chubb were injured than what Chubb’s upside would be if Hunt was injured due to Hunt’s superior pass-catching ability. Hunt’s 2017 and 2018 seasons in Kansas City were elite fantasy seasons, so I’m willing to target Hunt whenever I can. If Chubb stays healthy, maybe you get a season full of no more than RB2/Flex production from Hunt, but I’m willing to take some boring results if there is a real chance at RB1 upside.


26. J.K. Dobbins (Baltimore Ravens) – I’m aggressively pushing J.K. Dobbins up my rankings, and I hope we all don’t get burned in the end. But the upside for Dobbins in this explosive Baltimore ground game is just too enticing, and I refuse to sit back and risk missing out. The rookie second-round pick out of Ohio State was one of the elite running back prospects coming out of the draft, though his stock cooled just a bit after he didn’t participate in drills at the NFL combine. Dropping into Baltimore is a perfect landing spot, and although he has to battle with the rock-solid Mark Ingram II, I’m willing to draft Dobbins and see how this plays out.

His big-play potential could force him onto the field over Ingram, while an injury could also pave the way. And while we all love Gus Edwards and Justice Hill to varying degrees, I find it hard to believe that Dobbins and Ingram won’t dominate this backfield. I’m generally taking Dobbins as my RB3, a spot where I don’t need to count on him from day one. I’m happy to roll the dice on him in this spot chasing the upside, and if I’m wrong my teams can certainly overcome a mistake in the eighth round. He’s one of my most drafted players in best ball drafts this offseason.


Tier 6: Dark Souls


27. Raheem Mostert (San Francisco 49ers) – Dark Souls is a punishing series of games, and I fear this tier could be punishing to those relying on its players. After the threat of a holdout or trade, Raheem Mostert is back in San Francisco with the title of “starting running back”, though that has little meaning in Kyle Shanahan’ hot-hand approach to this backfield. Mostert certainly has talent as evidenced by his 5.6 yards per carry last year, and the 49ers running game should be excellent again. But Mostert is 28 years old, a former undrafted free agent, and had never topped 300 yards rushing in a season before last year’s 772. He’s not the type of player I typically bet on, and I expect plenty of frustrating weeks. If you missed out on running backs early and want someone you can start Week 1 that has a little bit of upside, I get the pick for sure. It’s just not one that I will be making very often.


28. D’Andre Swift (Detroit Lions) – I’m in on all of the other rookie running backs and I worry that I’m overlooking D’Andre Swift. After all, Swift could have just as easily gone to the Chiefs at pick 32 of the first round, in which case he would be a bonafide first-round fantasy pick. Instead, he lands in Detroit, and that is the problem for me. We never loved how they used Kerryon Johnson from a fantasy perspective, and I worry that the Lions won’t utilize Swift to the extent that we need in the passing game. Swift drew comparisons to Alvin Kamara, which is certainly exciting. But Kamara also plays in New Orleans with Drew Brees and Sean Payton, and even then hasn’t reached 900 rushing yards on the ground in his career. If Swift doesn’t hit 1,000 rushing yards, doesn’t get featured enough in the passing game, and sees too many touchdowns go to other options, I worry this will be a mediocre year one.

*Swift has missed time in camp with an injury and could be eased in to start the season*


29. Devin Singletary (Buffalo Bills) – I had this touchdown reception stuck in my head for a while, and I probably overvalued Devin Singletary early in the offseason. But there is just too much in the way of a fantasy breakout, so I feel comfortable ranking him at 30. The 5’7″ third-round pick is always going to need to fight for touchdowns, and having a red zone specialist in Josh Allen at quarterback is a bad start. Singeltary only scored 4 touchdowns on 180 total touches last year with the aging Frank Gore as his primary competition, and now fellow third-round pick Zack Moss joins the fold as a clear red zone threat with more juice than Gore.

If this was a different offense, I could be more interested in Singletary as a pass-catching, change of pace back in a 50/50 or 60/40 split. But in Buffalo, with their run-heavy approach and the presence of Stefon Diggs and John Brown, I just don’t see the pass-catching upside. Coupled with the low projection for touchdowns, and Singletary lacks upside to make him a staple of my drafts.


30. Ronald Jones II (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – Ronald Jones II topped 1,000 yards from scrimmage in 2019, a nice recovery from a dreadful rookie year, so Jones’ career is headed in the right direction. But I didn’t love him coming out of USC and I’m not exactly sure what kind of role he will fill in Tompa Bay, as Brady will likely have a large say over the backfield. Maybe Jones becomes Brady’s Sony Michel only, you know, actually good and healthy, and pays off on his ADP. There’s just not enough proven production here for me, and I’m not even sure if there’s a ceiling worth chasing.


31. Zack Moss (Buffalo Bills) – Another rookie I’ve aggressively ranked is Zack Moss, see my Devin Singletary ranking above for more thoughts on this offense. I don’t love Moss as a prospect, and he had some injury issues at Utah. But he fits a nice opening in Buffalo, as Frank Gore leaves 166 vacated carries that Moss can build off of. I wouldn’t be all that surprised to see Moss on the larger end of the timeshare for most of the season, and he has much more touchdown upside than Singeltary. Moss even showed some pass-catching chops in college. I have Singeltary ranked ahead, but I would much rather pass on him and take Moss later, who could end up being the better fantasy player straight up.


32. David Montgomery (Chicago Bears) – I have a real hard time getting excited about David Montgomery, though I get the appeal. He’s among the last of the volume players left, as Tarik Cohen isn’t going to steal much work from him on the ground. But what are we chasing here? He’s a former third-round pick who experts were somewhat divided on coming out of Iowa State. He averaged 3.7 yards per carry his rookie year with just 25 receptions in 16 games, plays in what still looks like a below-average offense in Chicago, and just hasn’t shown a reason to expect a breakout. Give me Dobbins with the higher draft capital in an elite offense 100 times out of 100.

*Montgomery suffered a groin injury in practice on 8/26 and the full extent is unknown. He may miss the start of the regular season.*


33. James White (New England Patriots) – We all know what James White is, a dependable passing game specialist that will approach 100 targets most years. What we don’t know is how much work he will get with Cam Newton in town. I usually shy away from White, as he’s never going to take a three-down role and be a workhorse. If you chase upside at the position like I do, then he’s a pass, but if you draft zero-RB and just need someone to chip in points each and every week, then he’s an excellent target.


34. Matt Breida (Miami Dolphins) – I like Matt Breida, the case for a good season makes sense, and I’ve been sprinkling him into my teams occasionally this offseason. But what is the upside really, here? I think it is probably unlikely that he ever becomes a workhorse running back, even if something happened to teammate Jordan Howard. And with Howard around, this will be a substantial split. Breida had over 1,000 yards from scrimmage in 2018 and has averaged 5.0 yards per carry in his career with the 49ers. But we are going to need more than 30 or so targets a year for Breida to ever be much of a difference-maker. He’s got 10 total touchdowns in three seasons, so a touchdown role is uncertain. He sounds like a cheaper version of Devin Singeltary to me, so that has value, but I’m not running out to get him.


35. Tarik Cohen (Chicago Bears) – Tarik Cohen spiked a big 2018 season on some big plays and touchdown luck, but that is unlikely to happen again. Cohen averaged 10.2 yards per reception in 2018, while in 2017 and 2019 he averaged 6.7 and 5.8, respectively. Outside of his eight-touchdown 2018 season, he has scored three touchdowns in each of his other two seasons. He’s likely a short-range target and compiler in this offense, and like James White, if you just need a weekly floor play he’s fine. But I won’t be drafting him very often.


36. Jordan Howard (Miami Dolphins) – Now in Miami, we should all know what Jordan Howard is by now. He will get you 60 or so yards most games, score a decent amount of touchdowns, and be close to a zero in the passing game. This is a problem in PPR leagues. If the Dolphins became a breakout team and Tua Tagovailoa took over and drastically changed the offense, I could see a world where Howard rode the wave to a bunch of carries and touchdowns as opposing defenses struggled to adapt to a new Dolphins team. But that seems like wishful thinking, making Howard a fine mid-round depth piece, but lacking of upside.


Tier 7: Fallout


37. Kerryon Johnson (Detroit Lions) – After the top 36 running backs have been ravaged in drafts, this is the tier where you are left fighting for scraps with the survivors. I don’t see how this works out for Kerryon Johnson in 2020 with D’Andre Swift in town, so I’m pretty much always going with wide receivers like Christian Kirk or Sterling Shepard over Johnson. Johnson has been injury-prone, failed to break out when given the chance, and faces likely superior competition in Swift. Outside of hoping for an injury, I don’t see much appeal. With Swift’s injury issues during camp, however, Johnson does have a shot to impress in Week 1 and command a role, so he is more on my radar with Swift nursing an injury.


38. Phillip Lindsay (Denver Broncos) – I’ve got to be honest, I’ve seen Phillip Lindsay touted as a popular mid-round running back target by some awfully smart analysts, and I just don’t get it. Outside of hoping for an injury to Melvin Gordon, which is possible, I am missing the appeal. Everyone sees the 5’8″, 190 pound Lindsay and thinks he’s a pass-catching asset but he isn’t, or at least the Broncos haven’t used him that way. With 47 and 48 targets in his two years in the league, Lindsey has turned that into 241 yards and 196 yards respectively with one total touchdown. Gordon is the better receiving back, or at least he has been used like he is. So while Lindsey has topped 1,200 yards from scrimmage both years in the league, I don’t see him coming anywhere close without an injury to Gordon. That remains a realistic possibility though, so Lindsay ultimately does have some value.


39. Tevin Coleman (San Francisco 49ers) – I like the idea of drafting Tevin Coleman when he falls in drafts, but when the Raheem Mostert potential holdout popped up, I was on the clock in the Scott Fish Bowl and drafted Coleman about a round too early. With Breida out of town, there is a bit more room for both Coleman and Mostert to operate, and an injury to Mostert could set Coleman up for a few really nice weeks that would be useful from this draft slot. But Coleman probably isn’t talented enough to have any breakout potential. He’s settled into a compiler role and can probably be penciled in for between 700 and 1,000 yards from scrimmage in 2020. For whatever it is worth, he has managed to score seven or more touchdowns in four straight seasons. But he’s no more than running back depth that you might end up moving on from by Week 4.


40. Sony Michel (New England Patriots) – Sony Michel shoots up my rankings as he comes off the PUP list and looks set for a Week 1 start. He’s not someone I love drafting, but his price might have fallen enough where he is a value. Cam Newton under center should help the running game, so maybe Michel will see some holes open up in 2020. He won’t help you in the passing game, as James White is the superior option. But Michel’s competition for between the tackles carries is fairly lackluster, so as long as Damien Harris didn’t win over the coaching staff during Michel’s absence, Michel should get the bulk of the carries on a team with a good defense. But with frequent injuries and his upside capped, there’s only so high he can go in my ranks.

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