Top 12 Running Backs Rankings for 2020 Fantasy Football (Part II)

by Nick Ercolano May 12, 2020

Top 12 Running Backs Rankings for 2020 Fantasy Football (Part II)

 

7. Miles Sanders - Philadelphia Eagles
Current ADP: 1.10 - RB8

So this is my final decision. I actually think that the more you think about it, the easier this becomes. 

When I do analysis on a player, every top 10 running back is really good, really talented, etc. My job, is to find the holes in an argument against a player, and clog them fuckers like this is a sinking ship, and im johnny sins with the dick trying to fill them holes.

So, Miles Sanders - the big argument against him is Doug Pederson always deploying an RBBC. It's no farce - Miles Sanders' 179 carries last year were the most a single running back has had under a Doug Pederson head-coached team.

Our job is to predict if that will happen in 2020, and to what extent.

Jordan Howard being in Miami is massive for Sanders' upside. I mean, you look at their depth chart. It's Miles Sanders... and it's Boston Scott, fuckin Corey Clement and a battle between the 4.80 40 guys Elijah Holyfield & Michael Warren for scraps. Corey Clement, missed basically all of 2019, they didn't tender him, let him walk, he went unsigned in FA so they signed him to a one-year deal - if you think Clement is going to impact Sanders' workload you're drunk.

It's literally Sanders and Boston Scott. No free agent brought in, no running back drafted. Guys. If the path for an elite fantasy season for Sanders isn't as clear as fucking everclear, you've drank all everclear. 

Is Boston Scott going to be involved? Sure. Let's take a look at last year. 

Obviously Sanders was stuck behind Howard for the first half of the season. We're all sitting here salivating over a Sanders workload boner - doesn't happen until Jordan Howard gets hurt, then we see Sanders take over as the guy in the backfield. I mean going forward, after the bye, starting in Week 11, Howard's first game missed, Sanders is getting nearly 21 opportunities/game (carries/targets) over the remainder of the season --- while Boston Scott was there. Oh Boston Scott is going to play the pass-catching role. Sure, maybe. Scott was involved in the offense over the last four weeks of the season, admittedly looked great - in those 4 games, Scott saw 6, 7, 6 and 4 targets. Sanders saw - 5, 6, 6, and 5 targets... that was including Week 17 where he left with an ankle sprain. Y'all. It's not one or the other - Sanders is a very good pass-catching back, and while Scott was on the field last year, it didn't impact his receiving numbers whatsoever. Here's Week 14, 15, 16 (again Sanders left with ankle injury in Week 17).

It's not mutually exclusive that Sanders can be very good and involved in the passing game, while Boston Scott makes this a small RBBC.

In the wildcard playoff game, Sanders out-targeted Scott 5-3.

Sanders led all rookies in YFS last year, 1,327 yards. 63 targets, 50 receptions. While playing on 52% of the team's snaps. He did that while in a committee as a rookie. Sanders is going to be THE GUY in 2020 behind PFF's literally #1 graded run-blocking offensive line. 

We also aren't taking into account his TD upside. Jordan Howard had 8 GL carries in basically his first 8 games, 16 games and you're looking at a top-5 pace. He's gone, you think they're giving those GL carries to Boston Scott, or Sanders? Thought so.

Once Sanders took over last year, he was a legit top 5 fantasy RB - and now he has very little competition in an offense that should be at worst, above average.

It's clear as day to me, if you pass on Miles Sanders in 2020 fantasy football, you're going to regret it.

 

  

 

 

8. Joe Mixon - Cincinnati Bengals
CURRENT ADP: 1.09 - RB7

The argument for Mixon is a pretty simple one. 

The pure talent and athleticism is there. He has the size, the speed, the 3-down ability. Byke-to-byke 1400+ yard seasons.

The offense should be incredibly improved this year with Joe Burrow under center and getting their 2019 first-round LT Jonah Williams back after missing his entire rookie year.

So, why do I have him down here? Well, wtf is going on in the passing game? Are we just projecting, that after 3 years, he goes from a 2-3 target/game guy to 5-6? I'm having a lot of trouble getting on board with that.

Mixon played in two more games in 2019 then he did in 2018, and had 10 fewer targets, how does that happen? Mixon had two more targets than Gio did last year. If Gio gets cut, we're looking at a different outlook, but until then, why is he going to get more passing work? Because you want him to? Nah. That ain't it for me.

Joe Mixon played on 59% of the team's snaps last year. Gio played on over 40%. Gio was their 2-minute drill back, he was their 3rd down back a lot of the time. You can't just wish that away, unfortunately.

And I know, it's Joe Burrow throws to his RB so much, right? Like look what Clyde did in LSU offense last year, 55 receptions. The raw numbers look great, but in terms of the market of the offense, it wasn't overly impressive. And Burrow barely threw to his RBs in 2018. So, if you're going to argue that it's a Burrow thing, you have to be consistent throughout, regardless of scheme - I'm way more of the mindset that it was a Joe Brady scheme thing, then a Joe Burrow thing.

Don't get me wrong. Mixon was a beast last year. The second half of the year was literally just don't let our backup QBs throw the ball, and give it to Mixon every chance we can. He saw 23 touches in 6 of their final 8 games. That's so many touches. Had at least 26 in 4-of-8 (50%). Do we see that with a capable QB under center? I don't know.

His talent can't be denied - led the NFL in evaded tackles, 4th most created yards per touch, but for whatever reason, they won't let him play full-time.

So, while I like Mixon, his range of outcomes could be another heavy ground year, with disappointing passing numbers.

I'm not gonna talk about a possible hold-out. 

Also, yes the Bengals will be improved, let's not act like they're a playoff team all the sudden - they're tied in Vegas for the single lowest win total in Vegas (5.5). 

So, Mixon is definitely in the conversation for the upper-echelon of RBs but he's more of a back-end round pick for me, than like 6th overall.

 

9. Josh Jacobs - Oakland Raiders
Current APD: 1.11 - RB9

I was ready to put Jacobs at my RB7, to be honest, but the moves they've made from the draft and since then, tell you a completely different story to what they're saying. And actions speak louder than words. 

I was excited to see them let Jacobs catch a ton of passes. That was his big knock during his rookie year - outside of him never holding up over a full-workload - the guy was a beast:

Over 1300 YFS, which, yes if you do the math averages over 100 YFS, given he played in 13 games. He had 5 games of 100+ rushing yards, that's tied with guys like Dalvin Cook and Aaron Jones. He ranked top 10 in the NFL in:

  • YPC (4.75)
  • YAC (3.48)

And probably the craziest thing, he led all RBs in missed tackles forced, per PFF, despite missing 3 games. His avoided tackles/attempt (0.29) led all 50 running backs with greater than 55 carries.

Another overlooked part of this offense is the improvement on the offensive line. They took a jump from 13th to 6th overall in RBing per FOs, and while PFF was less generous, they went from 21st to 18th this year, still an improvement.

So the problem comes in on the passing side of things, of course. He caught just 20 balls last year. 

Ok, so we're thinking Jalen Richard, FA - let him go, Jacobs stonks through the roof. Not so fast. Let's resign him for two years. Okay, maybe just a depth guy, knows the system the playbook, no big deal. Still in business.

Draft starts, Ruggs, Bryan Edwards, Lynn Bowden, okay cool let's start convincing ourselves that all these weapons will simply (and the worst piece of analysis in fantasy football goes to..... drum roll.....) stretch the field for Jacobs. Derek Carr and Mariota, the ultimate field-stretching duo under center that will keep safeties on their toes. Okay, so Richard, just a depth play, WRs drafted going to stretch the field.

But hold on, one of those weapons is labeled as a running back. Lynn Bowden, who led the SEC in rushing last year, who is also a wide receiver, a pass-catching guy, the Raiders when asked him are insistent that he is a running back. Ok. So, now competing with Jacobs for targets out of the backfield, both Jalen Richard & Lynn Bowden Jr. On top of the extra added weapons in Henry Ruggs, who will take a ton of those close to the LOS targets. He's not a deep-threat only guy, he's at his best near the LOS when he can put the speed on display when the ball is already in his hands. Richard & Bowden out of the backfield, Ruggs, Tyrell Williams, Darren Waller, Hunter Renfrow, Bryan Edwards... but wait there's more. Let's sign on more pass-catching back in Devonta Booker to the roster. Mane. I will not understand what the Raiders are doing here.

You say you want to get Jacobs involved more in the passing game, then you add 3 running backs who's all best trait on a football field is their ability to catch the ball.

Jacobs should ball on the ground, but I can't put him in that top tier with what you have to reasonably project in the passing game.

 

 

10. Nick Chubb - Cleveland Browns
Current ADP: 2.01 - RB10

Mannnnn, just like these other guys, what's his receiving work gonna look like. And on top of that, where Mixon is fighting with Gio, Jacobs is fighting with Jalen Richard and other unproven whatever players, Chubb is sharing the backfield with a guy, who came into the NFL during his rookie season and won the rushing title, scored 11 touchdowns and caught 53 passes. Kareem Hunt is a HUGE threat to Chubb's ceiling. I would almost say there's close to no chance that Chubb's ceiling can be realized while Hunt is sharing the backfield.

Does that mean Chubb can't be very good, of course not. His floor is fantastic.

 

The two played 8 games together last year, and in those games, Chubb was still on pace for 310 touches and a fuckload of GL carries. A lot of those had to do with the fact that he kept getting stuffed on the GL and getting another carry so they're essentially double-counted. That being said, though, Chubb had like the worst GL to TD conversion rate last year - it was really bad. Like think of the worst, and that wasn't nick chubb - cause he was worse than that. 

He had 15 GL carries on the year, scored 2 touchdowns. Those 15 carries turned into -14 yards.

But, the Browns massively upgraded their offensive line as expected. Bringing in former Titans right tackle Jack Conklin, who was. top-5 graded run-blocking tackle in the NFL last year (per PFF). Nowhere near as good in the passing game, but run-game very good. They, of course, used their first-round pick this year on Jedrick Wills Jr., the tackle out of Alabama. Wills is a phenomenal run-blocking tackle, so huge piece for them. It'll be interesting to see where he plays as he played at RT exclusively at Bama, and Conklin has done the same in the NFL. The plan was to put Wills at LT, but with the shortened training camp, or maybe non-existent maybe Conklin has to swing over. So, you like the additions, but there might be more than meets the eye here. Stay tuned.

Of course, we have to touch on Stefanski coming over as the new HC. We know he's a run-first guy. Both Chubb and Hunt will get a lot of touches. Last year, the Vikings led the NFL in most running back receiving yards from screens. If they get Chubb involved like they should, get him in open space, let him use his elite blend of size and speed/burst we could see, yes lower target numbers in total, but very good efficiency and big plays happening.

So, the new offense, the upgraded o-line, the GL conversion going up, lot to like here, but you can't simply ignore the fact that he's sharing the backfield with Kareem Hunt, no some shmuck. That's the only concern, it's absolutely in the range of outcomes that Hunt is just so good this turns into a 55/45 split, which will hurt Chubb's consistency week-to-week. So, while I don't think he's a bad back-end of the 1st round pick, I'd much prefer him landing in the 2nd. I think you might be passing up on ceiling from these backs in front of him that will be hard to come by with Chubb.

I mean listen, at the end of the day, when Nick Chubb is your RB10 in fantasy, the position itself is stacked like some pringles.

 

-------------------------------------------------

Things get super tricky here. There's a tier when I hit 11, where I just want to put four guys together and close my eyes and throw a dart.

It's Aaron Jones, Austin Ekeler, Kenyan Drake and it's Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

It actually hurts my brain thinking about how I'm going to rank them.

-------------------------------------------------

 

11. Kenyan Drake - Arizona Cardinals
Current ADP: 2.02 - RB11

At this point, the only knock you can have on Drake is that we have yet to see him do it over the course of a season. Four years at Bama, never more than 106 touches in a season. Comes into the NFL. Three years in Miami, maxed out at 173 touches.

On October 28th of last year, the Dolphins trade Drake to the Cardinals and explode might be an understatement. In his first game in a new uniform, against a stout SF 49ers defense, Drake pops off for 162 total yards and a tug on 19 touches. Admittedly, for as much as people remember Drake going nuts over the second half of the season, he had a lot of games where he wasn't great. After that first game, his yardage totals over the next month were 41, 80, 51 and 67 yards, before finishing the year strong with a ridiculous 4-touchdown game against CLV, a 184-yard, 2 TD against SEA and an eh finale against LAR.

I'll be honest, this is way more of a situation pick then it is the player for me. Drake was really good for fantasy last year, but he wasn't actually a really good running back when you look at the numbers. Breakaway run rate was 25th, evaded tackles/attempt was 49th, yards created per carry was 49th, but the run-blocking efficiency that he actually enjoyed was 4th best among all running backs in the NFL. Despite the OL as a whole being poor. This is a cool metric on player profiler, they show you how the OLine was when it's just that individual player running the ball. So, he enjoyed a lot of great things, that didn't coincide with him being great if we're being honest.

However, it didn't fuckin matter. He was the RB4 through the end of the season in PPR leagues once he came over to Arizona because this Kliff offense. Offensive schemes going into their second year almost always take BIG leaps in efficiency and statistics. His average defenders in the box were at 6.5, 53rd in the NFL, in a good way. This up-tempo offense, which actually massively slowed down and went far more run-heavy over the 2nd half of the year is going to be very efficient in 2020. With that, they paid Drake $8M on the year, they're going to use him, and use him a lot - they told us that by not signing a running back in free agency and waiting until the 7th round of the NFL draft to take Eno Benjamin. I don't give a shit if you liked Eno Benjamin, I liked him a lot, he was a 7th round pick. If a team took him picks before, they probably would've drafted a LB or some shit.

It's the Kenyan Drake show in 2020, if he can hold up, he's going to eat.

 

12. Clyde-Edwards Helaire - Kansas City Chiefs
Current ADP: 2.09 - RB14

I've talked exhaustively about CEH over the last couple of weeks - so if you want my outlook in-depth on him, go watch like any of the 9 videos I've recently posted about him. 

It comes down to one thing - whether or not you believe what they're saying about Damien Williams. Is he going to make this a committee, or is CEH the workhorse. If you believe the former, CEH can't be taken anywhere higher than the 3rd. If you believe the latter, he has as good of an argument to be in the 1st round as just about any running back this year. He's behind the rest of the guys here because this is half ppr - if it's full ppr he moves up a bunch - I expect CEH to catch 60-70 passes during his rookie season. But his carry total might be a bit low, maybe in the 170-190 range. Which is fine, considering the passing upside and TD upside.

All-in-all, I think CEH is a very talented running back, that just got 1st round draft capital, the first back off the board in the league's most potent offense behind the league's best QB under the league's (maybe) top offensive-minded coach. Like even if you think he stinks, there's not a good argument for ranking him outside the top-12.

 

 

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Nick Ercolano
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