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 7: Fallout


41. Darrell Henderson (Los Angeles Rams) – I’ve been drafting a ton of Darell Henderson late in drafts this offseason, but his hamstring injury puts him in question for Week 1 and lowers him a bit in the ranks. I don’t really even think that Henderson is that good after an awful rookie season, but in a Rams offense that has been great at fantasy production for the running back position, he’s worth a dart throw. He will likely get blown away in the competition by Cam Akers, but if that doesn’t happen, Henderson could carve out a nice role. And if something were to happen to Akers, I’d much rather have Henderson than career backup Malcolm Brown. Henderson is a “shrug your shoulders and hope for the best” pick, though his injury now makes the shrug even larger.


42. Marlon Mack (Indianapolis Colts) – Drafting Marlon Mack is simply a bet on Jonathon Taylor struggling with fumbles or injury, and I love Taylor this year so that’s not a bet I’m willing to make. Mack is ranked here because he’s done it before, rushing for 900+ yards the last two seasons as the starter, and the Colts have an excellent offensive line and infrastructure for a running back. But even if something happened to Taylor, Nyheim Hines is still there to catch passes, and Mack really cratered in the passing game last year with just 17 total targets across 14 games. Even if drafting Mack works out, I’m not sure the upside is all that special.


43. Antonio Gibson (Washington Football Team) – The hype is real in some circles of Twitter, so separating fact from fiction on Antonio Gibson is difficult. He’s a top-level athlete from Memphis that is a threat on the ground as well as in the passing game. He touched the ball just 77 times in two years at Memphis but turned those touches into 14 touchdowns on 15.6 yards per touch. It’s hard to imagine him having a high-volume role in year-one, but the absence of Derrius Guice certainly leaves a huge opportunity. If he landed in an explosive passing offense I would be more on board, I just don’t know if we can trust Washington to fully unlock him right away. Gibson’s ceiling is intriguing, but the floor is also as low as any.


44. Duke Johnson (Houston Texans) – We all want Duke Johnson to be a thing, but it doesn’t seem like coaches want to feature him in the backfield. After receiving over 100 carries in his rookie season of 2015, he’s yet to reach that number since, despite averaging five yards per carry in three of his last four years. He’s involved in the passing game, receiving over 60 targets every year he’s played in the NFL, but it hasn’t exactly produced explosive results. I am down on how much David Johnson has left in the tank, however, so I think there’s a chance Duke sees more action this year. But I suspect that even if David Johnson were to go down, the Texans would add a veteran back to fill his role.


45. Boston Scott (Philadelphia Eagles) – Miles Sanders is week-to-week and Boston Scott appears to have a minor injury as well, and the news is scarce out of Philadelphia’s training camp. Both seem to be more or less fine, but Scott is worth taking a shot on in the off chance that Sanders’ injury is worse than they are letting on, or ends up lingering during the season. Scott filled in nicely down the stretch of 2019 as the Eagles were desperate for anyone who could catch a pass, as he received six or more targets in each of the final four games of the season. I’ve liked him since the Saints drafted him in the sixth round of the NFL Draft in 2018, but at 5’6″ and with that draft capital it is likely he is no more than a role player. I’d be willing to take the shot on him, however, as he could have a prominent role early in the season if Sanders is slowed from injury.


46. Chase Edmonds (Arizona Cardinals) – The handcuff to Kenyan Drake has value on its own, especially with Drake currently in a walking boot, and Chase Edmonds could even have some standalone value in a good Cardinals rushing attack. I like taking Edmonds regardless of whether you drafted Drake, as this is a cheap way to get a piece of the Arizona offense. With only Eno Benjamin (a seventh-round rookie) as competition, Edmonds has a pretty clear path to usage. I would push back on those overhyping Edmonds, as he is a former fourth-round draft pick that has just a total of 719 all-purpose yards through two years in the league. Edmonds exploded in his one big shot last year, rushing for 126 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries in Week 7 against the Giants. But Edmonds suffered a hamstring injury the next week and was an afterthought for the rest of the year. There’s some upside here, so draft him when you can. But I don’t believe his best-case scenario is as high as some analysts do, as I don’t see him as the workhorse type.


47. Nyheim Hines (Indianapolis Colts) – Nyheim Hines is the Colts’ pass-catching third-down specialist that could benefit from Philip Rivers joining the team. Rivers loves throwing to running backs and made Austin Ekeler a fantasy star in a complementary role on the Chargers. While I don’t envision that upside from Hines, there is certainly the chance for a solid season. Hines has at least 44 receptions in each of his two NFL seasons, and neither Jonathan Taylor nor Marlon Mack is likely to push him out of that pass-catching role. Hines turned 81 targets his rookie year into just 425 yards and two touchdowns, so I’m not sure the explosiveness is there for a true breakout. But Rivers may work his magic and get Hines the ball in better situations. I’d rather take Hines late in drafts as opposed to paying up for Tarik Cohen or James White this year.


48. Justin Jackson (Los Angeles Chargers) – Justin Jackson and rookie Joshua Kelley appear to be in a battle for the backup duties in Los Angeles, a role that I want to draft this year, so I’m willing to take shots on both players. I’m giving Jackson the upper hand right now as the veteran. Austin Ekeler is great, but it seems unlikely he is going to take on a true workhorse role, leaving a 35-40% snap share potentially available to whoever wins this competition. The Chargers figure to run often with Tyrod Taylor at QB and a strong defense, so this could be a lucrative role. Jackson is talented, yet has battled injuries. But his career 5.1 yards per carry on 79 attempts could pay off in a bigger workload.


49. Joshua Kelley (Los Angeles Chargers) – Joshua Kelley is a fourth-round rookie from UCLA that just seems like one of those professional backs that coaches love. He’s earning high praise out of camp, and as I mentioned during Justin Jackson’s write-up, I really like this role that is available for Kelley. The question is if Kelley can beat Jackson out for a Week 1 role and whether these two backs will split the work behind Austin Ekeler, which would render them both irrelevant. But if I had my choice on one player to win the backup job it would be Kelley. He has higher draft capital, hasn’t struggled with injuries like Jackson, and has more future potential with Jackson due to be a free agent in 2022. Kelley is free in many leagues, and I like him as a late-round pick to fill out your roster.


Tier 8: Invisible, Inc.


50. Latavius Murray (New Orleans Saints) – This is a tier of players that will be invisible to start the year, but could be useful later on. I’m lower than consensus on Latavius Murray, as it looks like the fantasy community sees him as more than a handcuff. I don’t however, so while I rank him as the top pure handcuff, I don’t expect much value beyond an Alvin Kamara injury. Some drafters might seek out the best handcuffs in this 2020 season that could be chaos with COVID-19 IL stints and increased injuries with the lack of a preseason. I think that could be a mistake, however, as I prefer to have my roster stocked with as many players capable of winning a weekly role on their respective offenses. When I reach that week where my roster is hit hard, I want better depth options than Murray, where I would just be counting on an issue with Kamara popping up in order to start him.


51. Alexander Mattison (Minnesota Vikings) – Alexander Mattison is the handcuff for Dalvin Cook, an often-injured player in a run-heavy offense, making Mattison an intriguing target. Mattison isn’t the player that Cook is, so keep expectations in check. But if you are avoiding Cook due to injury concerns, then by default you should be high on Mattison. Beyond Cook and Adam Thielen, this is a team lacking proven options on offense. Mattison would immediately step into a high volume role with a Cook injury.


52. Tony Pollard (Dallas Cowboys) – Tony Pollard is the best player of all the handcuffs, finding a way to touch the ball 101 times in his rookie 2019 season while playing behind Ezekiel Elliott and averaging an impressive 5.3 yards per rush. If you want to bet on pure talent, you could make a case for drafting Pollard and hoping for a larger, standalone type role. But playing behind a dependable running back in Elliott, in an offense with three legitimate wide receivers and a promising young tight end, it doesn’t appear there is a big weekly role for Pollard. If something happened to Zeke, Pollard could be a true league-winner. But outside of suspensions and holdouts, Elliott has been on the field virtually for virtually every game in his career.


53. Adrian Peterson (Washington Football Team) – We’ve been through this the last two years with Adrian Peterson, so you should know how you feel about the 35-year-old running back already. He won’t be invisible at first like the others on this tier, but you also shouldn’t be starting him until injuries and bye weeks pile up. Derrius Guice‘s legal troubles have eliminated him from the offense, so Peterson will likely find himself with yet another year as the lead running back on an NFL team. I see almost no upside here so I won’t be drafting him, as he plays for what should be a bad team and Peterson has little to no receiving game work to boost him. If 800-900 yards and 5-8 touchdowns spread evenly over 16 games has use for you, then go for it. But I will be chasing the breakout players.


54. A.J. Dillon (Green Bay Packers) – How much stock do you put into training camp reports? This report from Packers camp certainly makes it hard to get excited for A.J. Dillon in 2020. I still think he’s worth taking a gamble on later in drafts. A power back drafted in the second round to a team that needed another wide receiver way more than another running back, the Packers have to have a plan for Dillon, right? Starter Aaron Jones is talented both on the ground and through the air, so he figures to see his 55-60% of the snaps again. The question is what happens to Jamaal Williams, a trusted player in the passing game last year. If Williams sees his role stay relatively equal, then there just isn’t room for Dillon barring injury. But maybe Jones takes on more of the passing role, Williams is phased out as a player that lacks big-play ability, and we see Dillon take on an early-down and goalline role? On a run-heavy team, and as a player that could score some touchdowns, Dillon has a decent ceiling, the floor is just virtually non-existent.


55. Darrel Williams (Kansas City Chiefs) – This was originally where I had DeAndre Washington, but word out of Chiefs camp is that Darrel Williams is running behind Clyde EdwardsHelaire and is even seeing snaps with the starters. Expect this to change often, but I’m willing to play this game and chase whoever the backup to CEH is. We don’t know how huge of a workload CEH can hold up to, so while he will lead the way and dominate passing game work (the role we want in this KC offense), there is likely a significant between the tackles role available and potentially the goalline role as well. Williams looked fine last year when given the opportunity, and showed some pass-catching ability, so I’m willing to stash him and see how Week 1 plays out.


56. Ke’Shawn Vaughn (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – I didn’t love Ke’Shawn Vaughn coming into the NFL Draft, as he looked like a fairly unexciting prospect that is older than most running backs entering the league at 23. Tampa Bay took him in the third round, however, which gives him some intrigue in a relatively open backfield. But Vaughn missed some time early on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and hasn’t made waves in camp. Ronald Jones II looks like the starter, the team brought in LeSean McCoy (for some reason), and Dare Ogunbawale might be the best pass catcher of the group. Bruce Arians implied that Vaughn’s Week 1 role would be little more than returning punts, so be prepared to stash Vaughn if you want to draft him.


Tier 9: Death Stranding


57. Carlos Hyde (Seattle Seahawks) – A tier of players caught in limbo between relevance and anonymity, Death Stranding felt like an appropriate title. Drafting Carlos Hyde isn’t a fun experience, but he was useful last year in Houston where he rushed for 1,000 yards. He is now trapped behind Chris Carson, however, who seems recovered from his 2019 hip injury. Hyde is worth a watch in case Carson runs into injury trouble, and with the sheer volume of carries available in Seattle he is likely to have a small weekly role. Hyde is more like a post-draft watch list candidate than someone who is on your draft radar.


58. Anthony McFarland Jr. (Pittsburgh Steelers) – Some analysts like the talent of Anthony McFarland Jr. more than I do. I see him as a home run threat that isn’t likely to receive a heavy workload. With so much competition behind James Conner, there’s no guarantee of McFarland’s workload even if Conner were to go down. But with how mediocre Benny Snell and Jaylen Samuels looked last year, coupled with the Steelers using a fourth-round pick on McFarland this year, he does represent the upside play among the backups.


59. Darrynton Evans (Tennesee Titans) – Darrynton Evans is a third-round rookie out of Appalachian St. that represents the backup to Derrick Henry, and replaces the departed Dion Lewis. Evans seems like the classic example of a backup that would still be just a committee member if the starter suffered an injury, so I’m not targeting him in drafts. He should take Lewis’s pass-catching role, which wasn’t lucrative in the past. But maybe Evans has more juice than Lewis, and there’s a chance by the end of the year he could be a streaming option in the right matchups.


60. Damien Harris (New England Patriots) – All of Damien Harris‘ value is likely dried up with the return of Sony Michel from the PUP list, but I’m leaving him here for now in case of a reinjury to Michel. After playing in just two games in his rookie season, the Patriots’ 2019 third-round pick needs to get on the field soon if he wants to jump-start his NFL career.

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