Rankings: 2020 RB Rankings (PPR)



(Source: Wikimedia Commons)


Charles Herrmann (
@HermsNFL)
The Lateral Chief Editor

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Following the news of Leonard Fournette signing with Tampa Bay, I would consider Fournette moving up to the middle of Tier 8 and Ronald Jones II moving down to the top of Tier 12. Additional clarity has been made in subsequent pieces.]

Boy, what a journey this offseason has been. So much has happened that has caused me to shuffle and reshuffle these rankings. Hell, yesterday with the Leonard Fournette news (I'd link a source but I'm sure you know what I'm talking about) caused me strife, but at a certain point there's got to be a "pencils down" moment. So here it is. My pencil is down and I'm done stressing out.

With this coming weekend being the most popular draft weekend, we at The Lateral are rolling out our site's official rankings. We started with our TE rankings yesterday, and today is the RBs. Malcolm (@McLateralFF) had a bit of a different approach with his methodology for determining his rankings than I did for mine, so let's start there:

Methodology

In order to make my rankings, I used the following sources:

Alright, time to explain myself. 

I'm such a nerd that my brothers and I went to fantasy sports camp (yes, that was a real thing and shoutout to Mr. Nikirk) as kids every summer from ages 9-17. Obviously the football season had taken place before the summer camp started, so the players' various outcomes had already been determined. 

As we and some of the other kids who went every year got older, we figured out Mr. Nikirk's scoring method and we would spend weeks ahead of time making cheatsheets full of guys we knew would get us to the playoffs and the guys we knew would be dominant in the playoffs. Because of how impactful that yearly experience was on my life and my love for fantasy sports, a part of me is always going to prepare the same way I used to as a child and into my teenage years.

That said, obviously I've learned more since then, so I have a bit of a hybrid for how I approach things now as an adult. I have this list organized more so by the order in which I would be looking to acquire these RBs rather than trying to tell you where I think each one will finish necessarily. Like I said, it's a bit of a hybrid, so bear with me. You will also notice I have a number in parenthesis after each player as well. There are some stretches of guys where I kind of value them similarly and guys I think can be better than their rank, so use that number as an indication as to how I really feel about them more or less in the aggregate. 

For example, let's look at two guys:

  • 6 - Mixon (5)
  • 35 - K. Johnson (25)

My rigid ranking of Bengals RB Joe Mixon is RB5, but since there are two pairs of RBs ahead of them I view as basically the same (designated as "Xa"/"Xb"), my general opinion of Mixon is RB5 and I'd think of him just a tick above but more or less the same. Conversely, my rigid ranking of Lions RB Kerryon Johnson is my rigid 35, but with rookie D'Andre Swift being hurt and missing significant snaps at the beginning of the year potentially, I think of Johnson on the RB2/flex bubble at least for a while there.

I think there's a possible case for top 36 production from 50 different players as far as potential outcomes go. There's some obvious variance depending on situation, but generally I have:

  • 16 potential RB1s
  • 18 potential RB2s
  • 17 flex plays

ONE FINAL WARNING

I run projections like most other people do, but given the fact that my math skills are intermediate at best, I'm not assigning any stats to anyone. I weigh the whole "talent + opportunity = production" notion more heavily than my approximate projections 60/40. I trust my ability to anticipate splits and potential scoring opportunities more than I trust what a calculator is going to tell me. Please read other people's rankings who are more prominent and smarter than I am, but I think my weird views also provide value. Does this all make sense? I sure hope it did. If not, I think you'll pick it up as you go along. Also, be prepared for a long read. So without further adieu, let's dive in...

2020 RB RANKINGS (PPR)

Tier 1: The Locks

1 - McCaffrey (1)

2 - Barkley (2)

3 - Elliott (3a)

4 - Henry (3b)

"But... but where's Alvin Kamara? Dalvin Cook???" Well, as of the moment this is being published, those guys are in murky holdout situations. I've been burned in the past by holdout guys (thanks Le'Veon Bell), and that causes me to be more conservative if I have a top pick now. So as of now, September 1st, these are the 4 guys I'm taking first. How much do I really need to say about any of them?

Even with potential regression, CMC is the best bet to finish the season as the RB1. Just look at how well he did last year. Christian McCaffrey was the PPR RB1 and it wasn't even close. He is my rigid RB1 and my general opinion RB1. Saquon Barkley is right behind him. Now, last year was a weird one for him because of an ankle injury. He returned more quickly than anticipated but he didn't really find his footing again till the end of the year. With health, I would assume Barkley is back to his former self and he projects more as the guy we saw finish as the PPR RB1 in 2018, a year in which he beat out the aforementioned CMC for the crown by less than a single point. He is my rigid RB2 and my general opinion RB2. Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry are generally the same in my mind. Obviously one of them catches passes and the other one doesn't, but at the end of the day, you can't go wrong with either. Given the format, I'll take Zeke over Henry, who has never caught more than 18 passes in a single year, but if you told me Henry edges him out in TDs I guess it wouldn't shock me. My rigid rankings have them at RB3 and RB4 respectively, but it's more of a 3a/3b type of deal in my head.

Tier 2: The Guys Who Aren't Holding Out
5 - Edwards-Helaire (4) 
6 - Mixon (5)
7 - Ekeler (6a)
8 - Sanders (6b)

Like I said before, I am risk-averse with the holdout guys, but I'll get to them after this.

Chiefs rookie RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a player with a massive hype train surrounding him, and with good reason. This article from Roto Street Journal helps to illustrate the point many of us have likely heard anecdotally on various fantasy podcasts this offseason: Andy Reid-coached RBs produce top 12 results with rare exception. Was the colloquially known CEH my favorite RB coming out of college last year? No, but he landed in the league's best offense. Rigid and general opinion RB4 for me.

Ekeler and Sanders have one big thing in common: they no longer have thorns in their sides. With Melvin Gordon moving onto Denver and Jordan Howard moving onto Miami, Ekeler and Sanders have their backfields (eh, mostly) to themselves. I've talked about both Ekeler and Sanders in separate articles, so go there if you want my deeper look. Rigid RB6/RB7, but generally they are about the same in my mind.

And I've already talked about Mixon. I like him a lot in 2020 more than others.

Tier 3: The Guys Who Are Holding Out

9 - Kamara (7a)

10 - Cook (7b)

These guys would ordinarily belong higher up for me, but with their contract situations being what they are, well... here we are. This is a range where if you are interested in taking them ahead of Tier 2, I wouldn't fault you. In fact, there's a decent chance I'm too cautious and these guys should be drafted ahead. Regardless, you know the names.

A knee issue and an injury to Drew Brees kind of took some wind out of Kamara's sails last year, but he still finished as the RB9 last season. Prior to his injury, Kamara was the RB7 on a points per game basis through the first 6 weeks of 2019 and we've seen him finish as high as RB3 as he did as a rookie in 2017. Plus, 3 straight years of 81 receptions is not only a fun coincidence but is also a good indicator that he's a great guy for the format. After years of battling injuries dating back to his days at Florida State, Dalvin Cook has always been a good bet to breakout assuming health. Last year he managed to finally string together a mostly full season (too bad he wasn't around for the fantasy finals) and finished as the RB4. Now, I've had Kamara as high as RB3 and Cook as high as RB5, but for now, they're RB8 and RB9 and are about the same to me.

Tier 4: Rock Solid Dudes

11 - Jacobs (8)
12 - Chubb (9)
13 - Carson (10)

Fantasy players can count on this bunch to provide a certain level of stability.

Josh Jacobs and Chris Carson both suffered injuries last year. Jacobs had a shoulder injury that he suffered in Week 7 that eventually knocked him out of 3 games/weighed him down a bit in others, and Carson with a hip injury that only cost him part of Week 16 (title week; ouch) and Week 17. Through Week 7 when the fractured shoulder occurred, Jacobs was the RB15 on a PPG basis and finished as the RB20 despite of it. Carson, who finished 2019 as the RB12, did manage to avoid surgery and to my knowledge hasn't had any issues in camp.

That pair is sandwiched between Browns stud RB Nick Chubb who would likely be higher if it weren't for the presence of Kareem Hunt. None of them have the massive reception upside that would cause them to be higher on the list, but the consistent rushing floor they all possess should be very steady nonetheless.

Tier 5: Regression Candidates

14 - A. Jones (11a)
15 - Drake (11b)

In the interest of time/length for this piece, I would again redirect you to our 2020 Fantasy RB Breakout, Booms, Busts and Sleepers article. It would be a mess to rehash the entire thing here. Aaron Jones and Kenyan Drake are our site's bust picks. If you miss out on anyone ahead of them, fine, but I'd really hope you at least have 1 or 2 RBs that aren't these two on your roster otherwise.

Tier 6: Jonathan Taylor

16 - Taylor (12) The Colts RB situation is likely to open as a committee between Taylor, Marlon Mack and pass catching back Nyheim Hines. As HC Frank Reich said not long ago, the team will be looking to ride the "hot hand" for a while. Be that as it may, even Mack seems to be aware of the reality of the situation.

Will it be frustrating early on? Quite possibly. But most NFL Draft experts had some combination of D'Andre Swift or Jonathan Taylor. Probably the best pure runner in the 2020, the famous Player Profiler has Taylor's best athletic comparison listed as Ezekiel Elliott. There are some questions about Taylor's hands, so perhaps he could be more like a Nick Chubb. Regardless, at some point in 2020 (I believe it will be by Week 6 or Week 7), Taylor should stave off Mack and become the undisputed RB1 in Indianapolis. Couple that with the fact that he'll be running behind PFF's top ranked offensive line, I want all the Taylor shares I can get. I already have him on 3 separate teams, both redraft and dynasty. I wouldn't feel uncomfortable with him as my RB2. Rigid 16, but I can see Taylor finishing the year as an RB1 on a PPG basis even in PPR.

Tier 7: Oldies But Goodies

17 - Conner (13)
18 - Gurley (14a)
19 - Da. Johnson (14b)
20 - Gordon (15)

We know this group well from years passed. Aside from James Conner, these guys used to be in the top 5 RBs. Hell, even during the famous Le'Veon Bell holdout season there was justification for Conner being a pretty high pick the more and more it looked like Bell wasn't going to play.

But this is 2020 and the best days are gone for this group (mostly). For Johnson and Gurley, it's been injuries that have slowed them down. Same for Conner to a degree. And in the case of Melvin Gordon, signing with the Broncos means splitting time with Phillip Lindsay.

The other part of these backs being so far down from where they once were is the fact that RBs tend to peak at age 27 and decline afterward. That's not quite what the article says, but that's a good benchmark. David Johnson is 28, Melvin Gordon is 27, Todd Gurley 26, and James Conner 25. 

Given their injury histories, I'd probably bet on Johnson and Gurley are least likely to recapture the former glory. With Gordon it's more about the split in the Denver backfield. All of which to say I'd take Conner over any of them as my rigid RB17, and the group of Gurley/Johnson/Gordon are basically equal in my eyes. Solid RB2 value here.

Tier 8: Yep, Those Are All RBs

21 - Hunt (16)
22 - Ingram II (17)
23 - Bell (18a)
24 - Mostert (18b)
25 - Howard (19)

The name of this tier is not an indictment on how I feel about any of them in particular. Sadly, they don't all have much in common aside from the fact that I'd be comfortable with any of them but not over the moon.

Well... except for Kareem Hunt. After returning from suspension in Week 10 of 2019, Hunt was the RB17 on a PPG basis, 2 spots behind Cleveland teammate Nick Chubb. That's why I have Chubb a little lower and Hunt a little higher than some. Issues off the field is why Hunt is playing second fiddle to Chubb in Cleveland rather than dominating the Kansas City backfield, but we know how good he was when it was the Hunt show. RB3 in 2017. If anything were to happen to Chubb, Hunt would be a league winner. If not, the dude's got serious flex appeal.

As for the other 4, they're all the presumed lead backs in tricky RBBCs on their various teams. Ingram II has to work to stave off rookie J.K. Dobbins (more on him later). Le'Veon Bell is despised by Adam Gase for some reason and will have the immortal Frank Gore taking away some work. Raheem Mostert has such a short track record for a 28 year old/Tevin Coleman hanging around, and Jordan Howard is running behind arguably the worst offensive line in the NFL this year in Miami and shares a backfield with former Niners RB Matt Breida. 

Gimme all the Kareem Hunt, and while the other 4 aren't guys I'm going to throw myself a parade over if I draft them, I'm going to feel good about my flex if I have them. If you end up going WR heavy or take one of the top 2 or 3 TEs, Hunt and Ingram II would be the ones I feel best about as RB2s, but there's a case for any of them to be that I suppose. I wouldn't want to do that but you could do worse.

Tier 9: Cautiously Optimistic

26 - R. Jones II (20)
27 - Moss (21a)
28 - Akers (21b)

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a new QB. Pretty good player! The window of opportunity to win with Tom Brady is a narrow one and I doubt he'll have much patience with those around him if they can't step up right away and do what he needs them to do. Some early hype surrounding Ronald Jones II came to a bit of a halt when the team signed veteran LeSean McCoy, but HC Bruce Arians has said Jones II will be the "main guy" in that offense. Nothing to the contrary has some out since then, so I'll take Arians at his word and roll with Jones II as a solid mid-round value. The leash might be short, but I'll bite. As for the pair of rookies, I really love Zack Moss, and I'm in like with Cam Akers. I would again refer back to our 2020 RB picks article to see why Moss is my big sleeper pick, but for Akers, the case is pretty simple. With Todd Gurley now in Atlanta and Darrell Henderson Jr. banged up, Akers is the clear-cut guy for me there in Los Angeles. Granted, the Rams have a bad offensive line, but so did Florida State and Akers did just fine in college. A lack of competition (aside from maybe more Malcolm Brown than we'd like) and goal-line work make me feel good about him. These are my favorite flex targets not named Kareem Hunt.

Tier 10: Good Complimentary Backs

29 - Cohen (22a)
30 - White (22b)
31 - Kelley (23a)
32 - Lindsay (23b)

Ranking rookie Joshua Kelley this high is kind of strange, I know. But as I wrote in my article about the Chargers rushing attack, the case for him having a decent shot at flex value is a pretty good one to me.

The other 3 guys fantasy players are more familiar with. Tarik Cohen and James White are both solid complimentary pass catching backs in their respective offenses that are relatively immune to being affected by whoever the early down back running ahead of them is. Cohen has had mixed levels of efficiency in his career to date whereas White has been more consistent, but both are good at what they do. I'll talk about the other RBs around them as this list goes along (well, except for the Patriots RBs; I want none of them as of this moment besides White), but given the format I'm always interested in pass catching specialists for my flex/bye week fill-ins. As mentioned earlier, Lindsay will be sharing the Denver backfield with Melvin Gordon. I find the duo to be a curious pairing considering their similarities, but Lindsay should get enough work to be viable. I think this piece from RotoBaller breaks it down better than I could. Seemingly being 2nd in line for goal line work puts a bit of a damper on Lindsey. I like him better as safety net in case one of your starting RBs gets hurt but I wouldn't fault anyone for rolling Lindsay out in the flex in good matchups. Tier 11: Tough Calls I Like

33 - Dobbins (24a)
34 - Scott (24b)
35 - K. Johnson/Swift (25) 
Each of these guys are in murky situations, but at some point in the draft tough calls have to be made. These are the ones I like.

As I mentioned before, J.K. Dobbins is in a RBBC in Baltimore, but as of this moment he's locked into a "significant role" in 2019 league's best Ravens rushing attack. While Mark Ingram II is going to be running ahead of him as the team's RB1, there is a chance Dobbins could surpass him at some point this year given that Ingram II turns 31 in December and the draft capital invested in Dobbins. Hell, there's even an argument the duo could manage to pull off what Mark Ingram II and Alvin Kamara did in 2017. Either way, the argument for Dobbins is similar to the one I made for Jonathan Taylor. I'd love to have a shot at a second half hero, but with Dobbins it's more of a matter of if not when.

Having Boston Scott this high on my list is a bit jarring, but the way he finished 2019 was great running in tandem with Miles Sanders. Granted, I don't think Scott will be the RB7 like he was from Weeks 14-17, but he showed what he could do as the pass catching compliment to Sanders in the Eagles offense without a committee approach. By virtue of having Sanders as high as I do this season for the reasons I do, I must also say Scott has a decent shot at being a James White Lite.

As for Kerryon Johnson, I basically covered the case for him in the methodology section, but he's also talented in his own right. The biggest thing weighing him down is his injury history that goes back to college. We've seen him show flashes of his abilities in the NFL, but that whole "the best ability is availability" thing has some merit. Swift is very talented in his own right and compares well to Miles Sanders, but what was said before about his camp injuries makes him a better long-play. Take you pick of the pair depending on what you're looking for or take both if you want to cover your bases, I guess.

Tier 12: Tough Calls I Don't Like

36 - Singletary (26a)
37 - Breida (26b)
38 - D. Montgomery (27)

For this bunch, it's less about me having a personal hatred toward them as players and more about their situations not being favorable for them in my view. There are valid reasons to take these 3 players but I would advise against them. The combo of the 2020 RB picks piece and my training camp battles piece illustrate why I'm high on Zack Moss in Buffalo and low on Devin Singletary. I think he's a tremendous athletic talent but the worst case scenario for him has become a reality. With Moss asserting himself in Bills camp, Singletary is now going to be 3rd in line for goal line work and will primarily be relying on passing work from a less than stellar passer in QB Josh Allen. He'll have good weeks for your fantasy team but I don't want to be in a position where I need to rely on Singletary.

As I mentioned before, Matt Breida will be sharing the RB duties in Miami with Jordan Howard. Breida has been great at times but he's seemingly always playing through injuries and it shows if you look at his game logs historically that is makes him painfully inconsistent. Between that and the fact that I'm not sure how good the Dolphins will be, I'm not thrilled about Breida.

While David Montgomery is a candidate for positive regression in relation to his lack of goal line success vs goal line usage, his injury scares me. Regardless of how long he will be out initially, a groin issue is something that presents risk of re-injury. I personally don't want to deal with that but if it ends up being a one-off thing, Montgomery could be interesting. I would proceed with caution and pass.

Tier 13: Wrong Side of The Tracks

39 - Mack (28)
40 - Coleman (29a)
41 - Peterson (29b)
42 - Fournette (30)

I think each of these players are good, but the fact that these rankings are for point per reception scoring and some uncertainty for upside, I would best classify these players as hard to count on in the format. The exception here is Leonard Fournette, but my reasoning for him being so low is obvious.

Other than him, Marlon Mack, Tevin Coleman, and Adrian Peterson just don't have the type of juice you'd want out of a bench RB. I talked about Mack and Jonathan Taylor already, Tevin Coleman basically disappeared last year for the 49ers after the emergence of Raheem Mostert, and Peterson is just old hell and WAY better for non-PPR scoring. If this were a non-PPR list, I could see Peterson having greater value, but in this format he's a bye week filler or injury replacement if you're in a pinch. There's also a chance Coleman could reemerge, so maybe take a shot there. Mack is best taken if you already have Taylor.

Tier 13: Handcuffs (And Chris Thompson)

43 - Murray (32a)
44 - Mattison (32b)
44 - Thompson (32c)
46 - Pollard (32d)

Everyone knows what a handcuff RB is, so I'm not going to explain that here. I should probably have these guys higher but they don't mean as much if you don't own the star they're connected to. Latavius Murray, Alexander Mattison, and Tony Pollard are incredibly valuable if you own Kamara, Cook, and Zeke respectively. In the event you are the owner of one of those top studs, I would reach a round or two higher in order to cover yourself in the event of injury. If you don't own the players these dudes are attached to, Murray is the only one with standalone value. We saw just how good he was when Kamara missed time last year.

Without Leonard Fournette, the Jaguars are going to have to roll with some combination of Ryquell Armstead, Devine Ozigbo, and James Robinson as the early down guy, so I really don't want any part of it. Then of course there's Chris Thompson. He won't be a good bet to play 16 games, but he's good as a pass catcher when he's out there has a connection with new OC Jay Gruden dating back to their time together in Washington. There's lowkey flex value here and you can get him late.

Tier 14: Hard To Judge, On The Fringe

47 - Hines (33)
48 - Gibson (34)
49 - Edmonds (35)
50 - Gore (36)

These are all guys who for one reason or another are in a position to have solid value but need multiple things break their way. Nyheim Hines is easily the best pass catcher in Indianapolis, but it's hard to project how much the Colts will throw the ball to the backs. Philip Rivers being their new QB might lead to an uptick in that department over what the Colts have done recently considering his personal history of doing so, but it's tough to know for sure.

Antonio Gibson is a dynamic athlete but it's hard to know what kind of role he'll have as a member of The Washington Football Team. I've had him in the 30s at different points in time and off the list entirely at others. I absolutely love the sleeper appeal, but considering he's not really a secret anymore, you're going to have to invest at a rich ADP price I don't know that I want to pay. Don't take my rank of him being this low as me not liking him, I think Gibson is tremendous, but I just don't have enough of a read on the Washington backfield personally to make a recommendation.

As for Chase Edmonds, he's Malcolm's sleeper pick for the site and he presented the case for him well in that article. And lastly, Frank Gore defies aging and seems to be in line to get some run behind Bell in the Jets offense. Don't love the upside but he's not that dissimilar to Adrian Peterson in my eyes.

Best Of The Rest
  • Lamar Miller/Sony Michel/Damien Harris

  • Darrynton Evans

  • Bryce Love


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