This preview was just updated a couple of days ago, but then Leonard Fournette signed with the Buccaneers and threw the running back world into a bit of chaos. I've updated everything below, but before you get there here are my quick thoughts on the Tampa Bay running back situation:
I expect Ronald Jones to start Week 1, simply because Fournette will have very little time to acclimate. So don't go dropping Jones or anything like that. I still think there's like a 40% chance he's the best running back in Tampa Bay this season and maybe a 20% chance he still has a top-20 season at running back. But the Fournette signing likely crushes any hopes you had for Jones having a top-12 season, and I still favor Fournette as the most likely starting back for Tampa Bay.
I would start to look for Fournette in Round 6, and I'd take him just before guys like Devin Singletary and D'Andre Swift. I do believe Fournette has top-12 upside in this offense, and I'd say there's maybe a 20% chance he makes Jones completely irrelevant in Fantasy. The most likely outcome is that both backs are No. 3 or No. 4 options for most of the season and you don't want to start any of them as more than a flex.
While we've jam-packed all the re-draft information we can into one article, you'll have to settle for links for the Dynasty content. Our Dynasty running back rankings are here and our Dynasty Tiers can be found here.
Before we get to the potential league-winners, it's worthwhile to take a quick look at the state of the position. Elite running backs have never been more valuable, at least partially because the number of true workhorse running backs seems to shrink every year. Below you'll see just seven running backs projected for 270 carries, and that's a 16-game projection. The flip side of that is that running backs are getting more work in the passing game than ever. We have 13 backs projected for at least 50 catches, and 27 backs with more than two catches per game.
While it's true that these factors make running backs more important in the early rounds, there's another strange dynamic at work; the position looks pretty deep in a lot of ways. That's because we just got an influx of talent with the likes of Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jonathan Taylor and the 2020 rookie class. But most of those backs landed in places where they have major competition for touches, and the shortened offseason makes it look like most of the veterans will start Week 1. This creates a weird dynamic where potential starting backs like Marlon Mack and Kerryon Johnson are available after Round 7. In other words, you don't totally have to give up on the idea of Zero-RB quite yet. Speaking of strategy ...
Running back draft strategy
Unless you really enjoy being contrarian, this is probably the year to start with at least one running back in the first two rounds. In fact, the preferred build for many in 2020 is to take a running back with each of your first two picks before turning your attention to the value at receiver in Rounds 3-5. How soon you take your third running back is really dependent on how confident you feel in your top two. If you land a pair of stud running backs in the first two rounds, it would be perfectly fine to wait until the seventh or eighth round to scoop up your third back. But if you started with a receiver and only took one back in the first three rounds, you should probably plan on taking a pair of backs before Round 7.
In the middle or later rounds it's important to get a good mix of floor and upside, but you also have to consider time of year more this year than others. For a team with only one solid starter, backs like Mack and Johnson have some serious appeal, but it's even better if you pair them with guys like J.K. Dobbins or Armstead, who have a better chance of finishing strong than starting strong. This is especially true for Zero-RB teams, which we'll get into a little more in depth later in this piece.
As for the total number of backs you need to draft, I wouldn't want fewer than five on any standard CBS team, and I'd want a lot more than that if I didn't feel great about both of my starters.
Now, let's get into sleepers, breakouts, and busts:
JAC Jacksonville • #23
Age: 23 • Experience: 2 yrs.
Armstead is the only sleeper from the last update to still be here. Even after Fournette was released, Armstead fell to Round 10 in our most recent industry mock. That's because no one is sure who will be the guy. Thompson has the highest weekly floor in PPR, and Armstead is the only other back with NFL experience. In Armstead's lone game as a starter he caught five passes, recorded 85 total yards and scored a touchdown. He belongs much closer to Alexander Mattison, Tony Pollard and Chase Edmonds than his ADP suggests. And Devine Ozigbo shouldn't be too far behind.
NO New Orleans • #28
Age: 30 • Experience: 8 yrs.
Even before Kamara took a leave of absence, Murray's 10th round ADP was too low. He'll be a non-PPR flex when Kamara is healthy, but what Murray did in two games he started in 2019 should have you salivating; more than 300 total yards and four touchdowns. If Kamara misses time, Murray is an instant top-12 back. This is the type of back you want on your bench because if he starts for his team, he immediately becomes a starter for your team.
James White RB
NE New England • #28
Age: 28 • Experience: 7 yrs.
James White is the one Patriots back I feel comfortable with, but I really don't get why his ADP is in such a free fall. Cam Newton showed us with Christian McCaffrey that he has no aversion to targeting his running backs, and the reports about the Patriots receiving corps during camp haven't exactly been glowing. White won't likely repeat his 2018 season when he was a top-10 PPR back, but I would expect him to average six targets per game for the third consecutive year. I'd also expect him to finish as a top-25 back if he plays 16 games.
PHI Philadelphia • #26
Age: 23 • Experience: 2 yrs.
Miles Sanders was a second-half superstar in 2019. From Week 11 through Week 16 (he was hurt in Week 17) Sanders was the No. 3 running back in PPR scoring with 735 total yards and four touchdowns in just six games. And it wasn't as if that's because he was getting all of the running-back touches. In that same stretch Boston Scott averaged nine touches per game. Earlier in the offseason I was worried the Eagles would add another complementary piece, but it seems pretty clear that Sanders and Scott are the guys. There's 300-touch and double-digit touchdown upside for Sanders in his second-year in Philadelphia. The only concern is the hamstring injury he's been dealing with in training camp.
Kenyan Drake RB
ARI Arizona • #41
Age: 26 • Experience: 5 yrs.
This may very well be the third consecutive year I've listed Kenyan Drake in this column, and for what it's worth, we're counting last year as a win. After floundering in Miami for the first half of the season, Drake was dealt to Arizona and took off like a rocket ship. In half a season with the Cardinals he totaled 814 yards and eight touchdowns. He averaged 18.9 touches per game and ranked as the No. 4 back in PPR from Week 9 forward. How's that for upside? It's not fair to expect Drake to double that production, but with David Johnson gone, it's pretty clear Drake should be viewed as the feature back in an offense we expect to be improved. Drake projects as a top-10 back with upside beyond that.
Josh Jacobs RB
LV Las Vegas • #28
Age: 22 • Experience: 2 yrs.
Just a small bump in targets could make Jacobs a borderline top-five back in 2020. As a rookie he averaged 18.6 carries per game and nearly 5 yards per carry. That type of production doesn't need much from the passing game to boost it to elite, but Jacobs did almost nothing. While he did average an acceptable 6.1 yards per target, he barely saw two targets per game. The nice thing is that's not the only way Jacobs could break out. He could also have a Derrick Henry like season with good touchdown fortune and a 16-game season. The Raiders made a lot of additions to this passing game, which could help Jacobs approach the touchdown production of the other workhorse backs from 2019. He was on pace for 297 carries last year, and the only four backs who topped 280 last year averaged 12.75 rushing touchdowns between them.
Le'Veon Bell RB
NYJ N.Y. Jets • #26
Age: 28 • Experience: 7 yrs.
A lot has changed since I last wrote this section. It used to be filled by rookies and I used to be defending Bell. But camp reports have not been kind to Bell, with Frank Gore getting a big share of the work. That's not something you can ignore when it comes to Adam Gase's history with the veteran. Bell's ADP has fallen recently, but it's still at least a round too high in PPR and maybe two rounds in non. It's not to say things can't work out, but it's not looking great right now. The Jets are too bad of a team to produce a good starting running back in a committee.
DEN Denver • #25
Age: 27 • Experience: 6 yrs.
Like Bell, Gordon is going around the end of the third round or early fourth. And like Bell, it sure sounds like he'll be in a full timeshare. The problem for Gordon is that he isn't sharing with Gore. He's sharing with Phillip Lindsay, who may just be a better runner. An even bigger problem is that Lindsay is being featured in the passing game. Gordon's only chance to return value in this situation is if he dominates passing downs and red zone work. It does not sound like that will be the case.
Ronald Jones RB
TB Tampa Bay • #27
Age: 23 • Experience: 3 yrs.
Let's stop that Round 5 nonsense right now. Jones is a fine pick in Round 9 or Round 10, but he shouldn't be taken before then. There's just no way to read Tampa Bay's offseason other than they do not have confidence in Jones as a workhorse back, despite what they keep saying.
Numbers to know
142 -- Christian McCaffrey's target total from 2019 was a record for running backs. Hopefully a new head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterback won't change too much.
5.6 -- Saquon Barkley's targets per game when Daniel Jones was quarterback. Barkley averaged eight targets per game in 2018 from Eli Manning. He can't keep up with McCaffrey if the targets don't bounce back.
18.8 -- Ezekiel Elliott saw 18.8 carries per game in 2019, the lowest number of his career. Kellen Moore's offense was way more pass heavy, which could be a problem for Elliott if his touchdowns normalize.
15.4 -- Alvin Kamara had scored once every 15.4 touches before 2019. Last year he scored six touchdowns on 252 touches. Assuming he stays healthy and the touchdowns normalize, he has a shot at No. 2 overall this year.
19 -- Dalvin Cook has missed 19 games in his first three seasons in the league. That makes him one of the riskiest first-round picks.
14 -- Austin Ekeler averaged 14 carries per game before Melvin Gordon returned in 2019. That's 224 carries over a full season, which would make him a top five back if he maintains even 75% of his production in the passing game.
156 -- Frank Gore has at least 156 carries each of the past 14 seasons, including 2018 with Adam Gase.
88 -- Kareem Hunt was on pace for 88 targets in his eight games with the Browns.
263 -- James White led running backs with 263 air yards in 2019.
19.2% -- Don't count on Mark Ingram scoring on 19.2% of his targets again this year. Regression is the expectation, but much worse could happen if J.K. Dobbins takes the job in the second half of the season.
641 -- No Lions running back has topped 641 rush yards since 2014.
So what Fantasy football sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which WR1 candidate can you wait on until late? Visit SportsLine now to get cheat sheets from the model that was all over Derrick Henry's huge season, and find out.
No, Zero-RB isn't dead. It's just a lot riskier than it used to be. But with everyone rushing to get as many running backs as they can in the first three rounds, it could also be a lot more profitable. A start of Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill and D.J. Moore is completely plausible. Throw in Dak Prescott (or Deshaun Watson) and Mark Andrews (or Zach Ertz) and you have yourself quite a squad. You just have to start hammering running backs at that point. Here are my favorite running backs in each round of ADP. Again, as we said above, make sure you get a good combination of upside and floor with at least two backs you can start Week 1. You should draft a running back in at least six of these rounds if you don't take one in the first five rounds.
Round 6 -- Kareem Hunt, Cam Akers
Round 7 -- D'Andre Swift, Tarik Cohen, J.K. Dobbins
Round 8 -- Marlon Mack, Phillip Lindsay, Jordan Howard
Round 9 -- Kerryon Johnson, Zack Moss
Round 10 -- James White, Latavius Murray
Round 11 -- Antonio Gibson, Alexander Mattison, Tony Pollard, Joshua Kelley, Darrell Henderson, Chase Edmonds
Round 12 or later -- Malcolm Brown, Ryquell Armstead, Boston Scott, Darrel Williams
Below are the top-10 handcuffs to draft on Draft Day. Obviously, Kareem Hunt is much more than a handcuff, but the reason he's on this list, and not someone like Tarik Cohen, is the fact that Hunt could be a league-winner in the event Nick Chubb gets hurt. Cohen's role wouldn't likely change. So, while Hunt can be a starter in a PPR league even without an injury, he's also the No. 1 handcuff. While I don't traditionally draft handcuffs to my starters, that may be more important in 2020 due to uncertainty around the coronavirus.
- Kareem Hunt
- Latavius Murray
- Phillip Lindsay
- Alexander Mattison
- J.K. Dobbins
- Chase Edmonds
- Darrel Williams
- Boston Scott
- Tony Pollard
- Darrynton Evans