Fitz on Fantasy: 2020 Running Back Rankings, 31-70
Pat Fitzmaurice finished second out of 160 experts in FantasyPros’ 2019 preseason rankings accuracy contest, and he’s now No. 1 in multi-year preseason rankings accuracy for 2017-2019. Fitzmaurice’s full 2020 redraft rankings are posted here, but this series of articles helps explain the thinking behind the rankings. Be sure to check out his already released explainers:
For more personalized advice, be sure to check out Pat’s Patreon page where you can have direct access to Pat for your specific fantasy dilemmas.
31. Jordan Howard, Dolphins
Howard is the Phil Collins of running backs – better than he’s given credit for and someone you might feel guilty about liking.
Yes, he’s useless in the passing game, and it’s somewhat concerning that a player who derives his value solely from the running game is going to be operating behind a bad offensive line. Still, Howard was RB10 (half-point PPR) in 2016, RB12 in 2017, RB20 in 2018, and he scored seven TDs for the Eagles last year in only 10 games.
32. Tevin Coleman, 49ers
It’s probably safe to conclude that he’s never going to be a star, but Coleman is going to have a committee role in one of the NFL’s best running games. Would anyone be surprised if he finished the season with more carries and more fantasy points than Raheem Mostert?
33. Latavius Murray, Saints
In the two midseason games that Alvin Kamara sat out with injuries last year, Murray had 221 rushing yards, 86 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
Murray offers a bit of stand-alone value in larger leagues since the Saints tend not to overwork Kamara. They also have one of the best offensive lines in the league and a high-functioning offense overall, making Murray appealing despite his backup status.
34. J.K. Dobbins, Ravens
It’s going to be hard for the rookie from Ohio State to usurp Mark Ingram’s control over the Baltimore backfield with an unconventional training camp and no preseason. But if anything were to happen to Ingram … yowza!
Maybe this ends up being sort of a redshirt year for Dobbins, but as a top-tier rookie prospect in the NFL’s best running game, the ceiling here is the Sistine Chapel.
35. Tarik Cohen, Bears
I’ve never had a good handle on Cohen’s fantasy value. When I’m in doubt about a player, I usually stay away. But I’m slowly warming up to Cohen.
At 5-6, 191 pounds, Cohen is never going to have a meaty role in a running game, but in 2018 he had 71 catches for 725 yards and five TDs, fueling an RB13 finish in half-point PPR leagues. Cohen was far less efficient in the passing game last year, but he’s acknowledged that he wasn’t in optimal condition.
Cohen’s ceiling isn’t sky-high, but the floor is sturdy.
36. James White, Patriots
As with Tarik Cohen, White’s floor is more attractive than the ceiling. Is White’s floor as high as it used to be not that he’ll no longer be catching passes from Tom Brady, with whom White had such good rapport? It’s not as if Cam Newton has ignored his RBs in the passing game, so I’m not especially worried about a value crash for White.
37. Antonio Gibson, Washington
The cons: He was mostly a receiver at Memphis and had only 33 rushing attempts in two years, so Gibson might be developed slowly. Washington’s offense probably won’t be good, and there are a lot of RBs in the mix for touches.
The pros: Gibson is 6-0, 228 pounds, with sub 4.4 speed, nifty moves and a pass catching background. After the release of Derrius Guice, the RBs in Gibson’s way are 35-year-old Adrian Peterson and journeymen Peyton Barber and J.D. McKissick.
Watch this (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZU8dfjXf9QE) and tell me you aren’t at least a little interested in rostering Gibson.
38. Matt Breida, Dolphins
Breida is a talented run-catch threat, but he’s perpetually banged up and mysteriously fell out of favor in San Francisco last year. The range of possible outcomes is wide here.
39. Zack Moss, Bills
Shawn Siegele of RotoViz, a true connoisseur of latter-round RBs, recently noted on my podcast that Moss has a prospect profile very similar to David Montgomery – known more for power and balance than speed, and good in the passing game – but while Montgomery was typically going in the fifth round of drafts last year, Moss typically goes in the 10th round or so.
Projected usage is part of that, of course. Montgomery was the Bears’ early-down back from the jump last year, whereas Moss will share work with Devin Singletary – and QB Josh Allen is sure to call his own number quite often when the Bills are close to the goal line.
I like Singletary, but I think Siegele makes a good point: Moss is cheap for a pretty good prospect who could equal or surpass the 166 carries that Frank Gore had for Buffalo last year.
40. Adrian Peterson, Washington
He’s not winning any more rushing titles at age 35, but Peterson managed to crank out 898 rushing yards and five TDs last year, and he’s the favorite to start for Washington and get most of the early-down work following the release of Derrius Guice.
41. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Buccaneers
Interest in Vaughn has been waning after Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians declared Ronald Jones to be his lead RB, but Arians has head-faked us before, professing his loyalty to Andre Ellington while slow-playing an oncoming locomotive named David Johnson.
Then again, Jones had a better college career than Vaughn, was drafted a round earlier, and is actually a few months younger than Vaughn even though Jones has already been in the league for two years. But Vaughn is still an interesting prospect who could factor into the Buccaneers’ backfield, particularly if Jones’ subpar pass-blocking threatens to de-spleen Tom Brady.
42. Alexander Mattison, Vikings
I’m usually not big on handcuffing my starting RBs before late October or so, but I suppose there’s a case to be made that it makes more sense to handcuff early in the year of COVID-19. Mattison is one of the more valuable handcuffs in the game, having shown impressive chops as a backup to Dalvin Cook in an offense that’s hell-bent on running the ball.
43. Duke Johnson, Texans
Duke has always been pigeonholed as a passing-down RB, but it’s worth remembering that he ran for 1,652 yards and 10 TDs in his last college season at Miami (Fla.) and has averaged nearly 5.0 yards per carry the last two years (albeit with the advantage that passing-down backs have of often rushing against light defensive fronts).
Point is, maybe Duke could play a bigger role in the running game if David Johnson truly is washed up, as he appeared to be at times last year. (Disclaimer: I don’t really believe he’s washed.) At the very least, Duke figure to have a significant role in the passing game for what should be an above-average offense.
44. Phillip Lindsay, Broncos
Lindsay had a 53-catch season when he was a junior at the University of Colorado, and 50-catch seasons are pretty rare for college RBs. So why has Lindsay been so ineffective in the Broncos’ passing game? He averaged 4.1 yards per target last year, which is awful.
And yet, the 5-9, 190-pound Lindsay has been surprisingly effective near the goal line, punching in 11 touchdowns in 27 carries from inside the opponent’s 10-yard line over the last two years. I think we can safely throw the small-RB stereotypes out the window here.
There’s been some debate within the fantasy community about whether the arrival of Melvin Gordon in the offseason means an RB-by-committee in Denver. I tend to think it’ll be Gordon’s show, but at minimum Lindsay is going to be one of the league’s more valuable backup RBs.
45. Tony Pollard, Cowboys
Will Pollard get more work now that the Tammy Wynette of head coaches, Jason Garrett, will no longer be standing by his man Ezekiel Elliott? New Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy presided over some RB committees in Green Bay, but he also leaned hard on Eddie Lacy for a couple of seasons.
I think Zeke is still going to be a workhorse, but Pollard is a talented, versatile dude who averaged 5.3 yards per carry last year and was a terrific pass catcher at the University of Memphis. Pollard is a lottery ticket who’d be worth a fortune if Elliott went down.
46. Chase Edmonds, Cardinals
Edmonds went off against the Giants last year, rushing for 126 yards and three TDs in Week 7 shortly before Kenyan Drake blew into Arizona. A former fourth-round pick, Edmonds could have value in an exciting, uptempo offense, and it’s not totally out of the question that he could unseat Drake on the merits.
47. Marlon Mack, Colts
Maybe Mack would have more job security if he were a skilled pass catcher, but he’s picked up just five first downs as a receiver over the last two years while averaging 4.3 yards per target.
Mack isn’t a bad runner, but no matter what Colts head coach Frank Reich is saying in training camp, there’s not a chance in hell that Mack will be able to stave off rookie Jonathan Taylor.
48. Kerryon Johnson, Lions
A trendy asset at this time a year ago, Johnson was sentenced to committee duty when the Lions drafted stud RB prospect D’Andre Swift near the top of the second round. We’ve seen that Johnson can play, but he’s also missed 14 games over his first two NFL seasons.
49. Darrynton Evans, Titans
Evans has been one of my favorite late-round targets in early drafts. The rookie from Appalachian State should immediately slot in as the backup behind Derrick Henry, who logged a grueling 421 carries last year (playoffs included).
Evans is a freak athlete with 4.4. speed, and he’s not tiny. He figures to have at least a small role in the offense from the jump, and he’d be golden if Henry needed to be taken into the shop for maintenance.
50. Boston Scott, Eagles
He looked pretty good when pressed into duty last year, and as of now, he’s still the No. 2 man behind Miles Sanders in Philly.
51. Darrell Henderson, Rams
Here’s a puzzler. Henderson was a stud prospect from Memphis who rushed for 1,909 yards and 22 TDs in 2018, but he couldn’t get any sort of traction in the Rams’ offense last year.
There would seem to be an opportunity for Henderson to assert himself now that Todd Gurley is gone, but the Rams spent a second-round pick on Cam Akers, who’s viewed as the favorite to start.
It’s usually not a great idea to lean heavily on training camp reports, but I think those reports will be far more relevant in Henderson’s case than for most players.
52. Lamar Miller, Patriots
The newly signed Miller could be New England’s Week 1 starter if Sony Michel hits the PUP list. Miller is the ham sandwich of running backs – satiating but unexciting.
53. DeAndre Washington, Chiefs
With Damien Williams opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19, Washington is probably the favorite to back up rookie first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Washington had to share backup duties with Jalen Richard for most of his four seasons with the Raiders, but he’s a solid, versatile RB who had a career-high 36 catches last year.
(Bonus: Washington was a teammate of Patrick Mahomes at Texas Tech in 2014 and 2015.)
54. Joshua Kelley, Chargers
A fourth-round pick out of UCLA, Kelley is an effervescent dude who had a solid two-year college career and tested well at the NFL Scouting Combine. He’s competing with Justin Jackson for backup work behind Austin Ekeler, and the No. 2 role with the Chargers could be fairly valuable since Ekeler isn’t built to handle a huge number of carries.
55. Sony Michel, Patriots
Michel was such an exciting prospect at the University of Georgia, but injuries are draining the battery. Michel has battled knee problems, and now he’s recovering from May foot surgery and could start the season on the PUP list. He’s also now finds himself in a crowded backfield that includes James White, Lamar Miller, Damien Harris and Rex Burkhead.
56. LeSean McCoy, Buccaneers
A recent roster addition for the Bucs, McCoy could work his way into he RB mix, but the Chiefs’ marginalization of him late last year hints that Shady has become a mere wisp of the player he used to be.
57. Ito Smith, Falcons
A lot of people thought Brian Hill was going to win the Falcons’ No. 2 RB job last August, but Smith clearly outplayed Hill in training camp, and he’s the favorite to be the No. 2 behind new arrival Todd Gurley this year.
The 5-9, 195-pound Smith would never be able to handle a heavy workload if Gurley’s balky knee became a problem, but Smith was an electrifying run-catch threat at Southern Mississippi and was good on a per-touch basis in his seven healthy games with the Falcons in 2019.
58. Giovani Bernard, Bengals
It’s Joe Mixon’s show in Cincinnati, but we know that Gio is a capable, versatile backup.
59. Anthony McFarland Jr., Steelers
The speedy McFarland probably isn’t going to push James Conner for early-down work, and he might end up with fewer carries than Benny Snell, but he could become a factor on passing downs.
60. Carlos Hyde, Seahawks
He’ll never be a favorite of the analytics crowd, but Hyde was reasonably effective as an early-down thumper for the Texans last year and will now be asked to play the same role for the run-happy Seahawks, albeit as a backup to Chris Carson. Hyde may eventually fall to No. 3 when Rashaad Penny comes back from a torn ACL.
61. Nyheim Hines, Colts
Hines is probably locked in as the Colts’ passing-down back, and Philip Rivers likes to check it down to his backs. I’d be more excited if Hines had shown us more juice over his first two seasons in Indy.
62. Jamaal Williams, Packers
Versatile but limited, Williams has had some pretty good games when injuries have forced him into a bigger role. But Aaron Jones is the clear No. 1 in Green Bay, and now second-round draft pick A.J. Dillon figures to get work, too.
63. Damien Harris, Patriots
Just when it seemed as if Harris might get his shot after what amounted to a redshirt rookie year, the Patriots signed Lamar Miller. Harris is still intriguing after a promising college career at Alabama, but he’s in a crowded backfield, and the Patriots’ offense seems to be on the way down.
64. Ryquell Armstead, Jaguars
We still have no idea whether Armstead is a legitimate NFL back, but he’s the favorite to be the No. 2 man behind Leonard Fournette, who has a history of lower leg injuries and acrimonious relations with the Jaguars.
65. A.J. Dillon, Packers
As a Packers fan, I hated the second-round selection of Dillon, who seems like a one-dimensional thumper, and not a particularly special one. I suppose he’ll have some sort of role based on the draft capital Packers GM Brian Gutekunst spent to get him. I think Gutes was having a flashback to the 1970s when he made this pick.
66. Devonta Freeman, free agent
Lamar Miller just signed, so it seems only a matter of time before Freeman finds a new home as well. He’s probably not going to find another starting gig though.
67. Justin Jackson, Chargers
I think rookie Joshua Kelley is a slight favorite to beat out Jackson for the No. 2 role behind Austin Ekeler, but I’m not sure I’m handicapping the race correctly. Jackson was a productive workhorse at Northwestern and has shown well in limited opportunities with the Chargers.
68. Lynn Bowden Jr., Raiders
Kentucky fans know how electrifying Bowden is. But there’s no way he’s unseating Josh Jacobs, and he’ll have to compete with established veteran Jalen Richard for backup touches.
69. Bennie Snell, Steelers
A slow but rugged plodder, Snell would be the favorite to start if James Conner were to get hurt.
70. Justice Hill, Ravens
Hill is an athletic freak whose closest comp on PlayerProfiler.com is Reggie Bush. But with Mark Ingram starting and J.K. Dobbins brought aboard in this year’s draft, it would take an injury to open the door even a crack for Hill.