Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings – Irresponsibly Early Edition

The 2019 season isn’t officially over yet, but that won’t stop the fantasy football community from looking ahead to 2020. Whether you took home a league championship or not, it’s never too early to start getting prepared for the upcoming fantasy football season. With that in mind, let’s take a way-too-early look at the fantasy football running back rankings.

Obviously, this list is coming out prior to free agency and the NFL Draft. Anything can happen during those two events, so don’t look at this list as gospel. Instead, use it as a general guideline for what to expect from 2019’s stars heading into 2020. Also note that incoming rookies have not been included on this list, even though there are quite a few prospects who should be able to start right out of the gate.

Way-Too-Early Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings

Alone At the Top

1. Christian McCaffrey

Duh. Christian McCaffrey had one of the greatest fantasy football seasons in history last year. Running backs are typically dependent upon their situation, but McCaffrey managed to produce in suboptimal conditions. He was arguably Carolina’s best receiver, easily their best runner, and managed to be the clear-cut RB1 despite catching passes from Kyle Allen, Will Grier, and the corpse of Cam Newton for the entirety of the season. Don’t worry about the coaching change – barring injury, there is no way McCaffrey shouldn’t be the first overall pick in every fantasy draft.

Not Quite McCaffrey

2. Saquon Barkley
3. Nick Chubb
4. Dalvin Cook
5. Ezekiel Elliott
6. Alvin Kamara
7. Joe Mixon

It’s anyone’s guess as to who is going to be the second-best running back in fantasy football. Saquon Barkley is the safest bet, as he has the talent to make huge plays in both facets of the game and has the draft pedigree to ensure a massive workload. First-year head coach Joe Judge appears to be an old-school type, and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has a long history of building around running backs.

Nick Chubb is my RB3 assuming Kareem Hunt leaves for greener pastures. Chubb was averaging 18 fantasy points per game without Hunt, and that number could go up with an improved offense led by Kevin Stefanski. Dalvin Cook is a superstar with full control of the backfield, but health is a major concern with the fourth-year runner.

Ezekiel Elliott needs no explanation, although Mike McCarthy’s pass-heavy philosophy could endanger his overall ceiling. Alvin Kamara experienced an absurd amount of touchdown regression and is actually a positive regression candidate. The Cincinnati Bengals are probably going to select Joe Burrow in the upcoming NFL Draft, and his presence should allow Mixon to have a great season.

Breakout Candidates

8. Josh Jacobs
9. Miles Sanders
10. Kenyan Drake
11. Devin Singletary

It’s hard to envision Josh Jacobs and Miles Sanders not leading their respective backfields in 2020. Both teams invested significant draft capital into the position and both players showed more than enough to earn the teams trust moving forward. Kenyan Drake finally escaped Miami and looked like the real deal with the Cardinals. Assuming he re-signs, he should flourish with a developing Kyler Murray. Devin Singletary might not have full control of the backfield like Jacobs or be in a high-powered offense like Sanders, but he should play a large role in Buffalo’s offense next year.

Negative Regression Candidates

12. Aaron Jones
13. Derrick Henry

Aaron Jones and Derrick Henry are both phenomenal talents, but both players are due for some negative regression. Even with Matt LaFleur calling the shots, Aaron Jones can still not escape the dreaded committee approach. He scored touchdowns at an unsustainable rate, and that’s going to come down in 2020. Additionally, Aaron Rodgers simply doesn’t look like the same guy anymore, so scoring opportunities might be limited next year.

Derrick Henry carried the Titans to the AFC Championship Game, but he won’t be the same unstoppable force in 2020. Including the postseason, Henry recorded 409 touches in 2019, and that is bad news for his 2020 outlook. According to Football Outsiders, just about every running back that eclipses 370 touches in a season suffers terrible regression or injury in the following season. If Henry is going to be effective, he’ll have to fight off history as well as some natural touchdown regression. As if that wasn’t enough, he doesn’t make plays in the passing game and might be on a new team next year. If you’re in a dynasty league, he’s the perfect sell-high candidate.

Uninspiring Veterans

14. Leonard Fournette
15. Chris Carson
16. Todd Gurley
17. James Conner

Leonard Fournette isn’t a good running back, but he’s the only one in town, has a guaranteed workload and is a positive touchdown regression candidate. Assuming the Jaguars don’t add another running back, he should be a safe low-end RB1/high-end RB2. Chris Carson still remains the lead back in a run-heavy offense, which means he’ll always have some fantasy value. Todd Gurley earned a larger role as the season progressed, but the Rams don’t know what they want to be on offense, and Gurley’s knee is still too much of a risk to trust. James Conner is good when he’s on the field, but you can’t trust him to stay on the field. Don’t be surprised if the Steelers draft somebody to be the lead running back of the future.

Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings – Too Many Unknowns

18. Austin Ekeler
19. Melvin Gordon
20. Kareem Hunt

Austin Ekeler and Melvin Gordon will probably both be higher on the fantasy football running back rankings when free agency happens. Gordon is probably on his way out of Los Angeles, and Ekeler is probably sticking around. If that happens, Ekeler is going into the “Not Quite McCaffrey” category while Gordon probably ends in “Uninspiring Veteran”. However, there is a chance the Chargers re-sign both players and plummet their individual fantasy values. Additionally, Philip Rivers probably won’t be back, and the uncertainty at quarterback makes it hard to trust whichever player ends up starting for Los Angeles. Rivers might not be his old self, but he’s still better than a Case Keenum-level quarterback.

Likewise, Kareem Hunt has the talent to be a top-10 running back if he earns a starting position. At this point, however, it’s too dangerous to assume that he’s going to land a job as the leader of a backfield.

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