Combining fantasy football tiers and rankings into one entity is an incredibly valuable move for those preparing for their 2020 fantasy football draft. Not only do you have a “cheat sheet” off which to draft from, but you can pay attention to groupings, or “tiers” of players that you deem having similar value. Targeting these running back tiers instead of simply specific players (although there’s nothing wrong with having favorites within each tier) greatly enhances your ability to plan out your roster even as your fantasy draft is in progress.
How To Use Fantasy Football Tiers
When drafting using fantasy football tiers, you want to pay attention to how close a tier is to ending. For example, if you are torn between taking a wide receiver or a running back, how many are left in the highest remaining tier? If there are three wide receivers left in the highest of the remaining fantasy football tiers but only one running back, then it would likely be smart to take the running back. In that scenario, it’s much more likely that you’re able to draft one of the wide receivers with your following pick.
Generally, you want to try and take one of the last players in a particular fantasy football tier rather than one of the first players in a particular tier. This is especially important if you are going by more of a value-based drafting strategy over a position-based drafting strategy such as Zero RB.
Of course, this knowledge must be combined with an average draft position (ADP). If you are deciding between two positions with a similar number of players left in a tier, then try and deduce which of the players are most likely to make it back to your following selection.
2020 Fantasy Football Tiers: Running Backs
These elite running back tier have players who are every-week mega-advantages, and whose production puts their fantasy teams as the immediate favorites to win their league. These players likely should never be traded away in redraft leagues.
Fantasy Running Back Tier 1 – League-Winning Workhorses
1. Christian McCaffrey: Would have been a WR1 via his receiving production alone. Expecting regression is natural, yet there is no excuse for him to slide past the first overall pick.
2. Saquon Barkley: McCaffrey should arguably be in a running back tier of his own, but let’s not forget Barkley had 15 touchdowns, 91 catches, and over 2,000 total yards as a rookie before his injury-marred 2019. A great “consolation” prize at 2nd overall.
Fantasy RB Tier 2 – Proven Every-Down Backs On Great Offenses
These players are not as untouchable as Tier 1, but are still arguably the best players in fantasy outside of McCaffrey and Kamara. They should likely be off the board before any other position is even considered.
3. Ezekiel Elliott: Last year’s RB3 just turned 25, and is still very much in range for a peak season. Elite prospect on an elite offense with an elite line, 12 touchdowns should be his floor (health allowing).
4. Alvin Kamara: “Disappointment” as last year’s RB9 despite missing two games. Still caught 81 passes and is due for positive touchdown regression (6 total last year) on an elite offense. Was playing through a myriad of injuries including a high ankle sprain, back issues and this:
Kamara said he tore his knee against Jacksonville. No surgery. A lot of rehab this offseason.
— Nick Underhill (@nick_underhill) August 10, 2020
5. Dalvin Cook: Congratulations to those who got the discount on him because of “holdout” concerns that were never going to materialize. Last year’s RB2 in terms of points per game will now be asked to handle even more with the departure of Stefon Diggs. Will remain the offensive centerpiece.
Fantasy RB Tier 3 – Potential Workhorses on Potentially Good Offenses
These players are either unproven as workhorses or their offense/scheme does not allow for the upside of higher tiered running backs. They are solid picks anywhere from the latter half of the first round through the late 2nd round and should be strongly considered even by the most ardent Zero-RB drafters anywhere after that.
6. Clyde Edwards-Helaire: An above average, but not elite prospect lands in a dream scenario. Damien Williams’s opt-out has shot his ADP into the latter part of the first round. If he can secure every-back duties and goal-line attempts, could end up being a steal. Will DeAndre Washington or Darwin Thompson steal work from this unproven rookie in this COVID-laden offseason? Only time will tell.
7. Miles Sanders: Has league-winning potential after flashing what he can do as a workhorse in the final 5 games of 2019 (overall RB2 pace). Has the hype gotten out of hand, or is he actually undervalued?
8. Joe Mixon: Improved offense at every level will mean more scoring opportunities for Mixon. A jump to the next level will require an unlikely spike in receiving productivity (has had between 30-43 receptions each of his first three seasons) despite his receiving prowess at Oklahoma. Still a safe bet for a floor of 1,100 rush yards and 8 touchdowns.
9. Austin Ekeler: Will be hard-pressed to achieve last year’s success. Due for major receiving touchdown regression after catching a whopping 8 touchdowns, and it’s entirely unknown how much less Herbert/Taylor will target running backs than Philip Rivers (who did so at a league-high rate).
10. Derrick Henry: Since 2010, no running back has finished higher than RB15 the season after finishing as an RB1 with under 35 targets. Henry will have to buck a major historical trend to live up to his current first-round ADP.
11. Kenyan Drake: Whether you believe he can be the lead back for an entire season determines whether or not he is worth his 2nd round ADP. Left-hand column is his performance following his trade to Arizona:
12. Aaron Jones: Due for TD regression (T-1st in rush TDs, 15th in attempts) especially with the drafting of A.J. Dillon in the 2nd round. Matt LaFleur never fully unleashed Derrick Henry, is he fully committed to a committee approach? Jones is unlikely to finish in the top-1o of rushing attempts.
13. Nick Chubb: Saw a 33% reduction in fantasy points with Kareem Hunt in the lineup last year, including a receiving production nose-dive (22 catch pace for 16 games with Hunt). You’re banking on 270+ carries and 10+ TDs with Chubb – stats that are within reach with Kevin Stefanski at the helm and a retooled offensive line.
14. Josh Jacobs: Similar situation to Nick Chubb/Derrick Henry in that banking on improved receiving production (with Jalen Richard returning and multiple additions to the receiving corps) will likely be a fool’s errand. A lead back on an average offense who does not catch many passes, your fantasy team looks better when he’s your 3rd round pick instead of 2nd.
Fantasy RB Tier 4 – Unstable Or Aging Workhorses With Major Question Marks
This running back tier should be considered higher risk RB2 investments. It consists of aging players who are likely past their prime, or unproven younger players who are not guaranteed every-down status. This tier should be targeted anywhere from the late 3rd round through the 5th round.
15. Jonathan Taylor: An Ezekiel Elliott-level prospect, Taylor is far and away the best running back of the 2020 class by nearly every metric. The only question with him is Marlon Mack and his offensive pace. Don’t be surprised to see him as an every-week RB1/2 by Week 7. Worthy of a 1st round pick in dynasty startups.
16. Leonard Fournette: Surprisingly finished 4th in targets among RBs in 2019, but scored only 3 total touchdowns. Trade rumors have swirled, and his effectiveness is in question. Very limited upside on an average (at best) offense with Chris Thompson likely to eat into receiving work.
17. Todd Gurley: Looked washed during the majority of 2019, but still scored 12 touchdowns due to his team’s offensive success. That’s what your banking on for 2020 if you draft him.
18. Le’Veon Bell: Completely lacked a ceiling in 2019 (three games over 17.2 fantasy points, 0 games with 23 or more). Another year older and modest (at best) improvements in the offense lead to an uninspiring fantasy football forecast for 2020.
19. Chris Carson: Receiving ceiling is lacking, but a high-floor, medium ceiling selection who is nearly guaranteed high-end RB2 status (health allowing). Possibly belongs in one tier above.
20. James Conner: Pittsburgh added to their backfield with Anthony McFarland Jr., but Jaylen Samuels is apparently not a lock to make the roster. If Conner can stay healthy, he’ll end up being a great fantasy value – but Conner has yet to play a full season in the NFL.
21. Melvin Gordon: Was outplayed at every level by Austin Ekeler last year, and Philip Lyndsay is not going away. ADP is boosted solely by previous success, but has a tenuous grasp on lead-back duties on an offense that is completely unproven. Passing game mouths to feed include Sutton, Jeudy, Fant and Hamler.
22. David Johnson: Was sneaky good during the first 6 games of 2019, but then looked like a semi trying to drive through mud. Is he washed, or was it simply his injury? Will be given all he can handle, but alarmingly turns 29 during the season. Classic boom-or-bust selection.
Fantasy RB Tier 5 – Young and Unproven Committee Leaders
This tier of young running backs is your last chance to grab a guy who has a puncher’s chance of securing a fruitful workhorse position. However, these backs could just as easily become mired in a confusing committee situation – maybe not even as the lead back.
23. Cam Akers: The odds-on favorite to replace Todd Gurley. Malcolm Brown cannot be considered a real threat, but Darrell Henderson still looms as a dark horse to lead this backfield.
24. D’Andre Swift: A fantastic college player lands on a potentially great offense with only Kerryon Johnson (who has fallen out of favor with this regime) in his way. Can he secure 60% of the touches as a rookie in this wild offseason?
25. Devin Singletary: Performed admirably in the 2nd half of last year as the lead back, but the drafting of Zack Moss may cut into an already reduced rushing touchdown ceiling (due to Josh Allen’s excellence on the ground). Lacks an RB1 ceiling, but also has a higher floor than others in this tier.
Fantasy RB Tier 6 – Likely 1B’s With Zero Receiving Floor
This running back tier are the low-end RB2/Flex type. Most have a weak grasp on the lead job (if they have it at all) and are not the primary receiving threat out of the backfield on their teams. Many of these players will be touchdown-or-bust plays week-to-week, but still have a solid 10-12 touch floor.
26. Kareem Hunt: The only player in this tier who can be relied upon for consistent receiving production, Hunt actually outscored Nick Chubb in 6 out of the 8 games he played. His ceiling is heavily limited as long as Chubb is healthy, but Hunt has a nice receiving floor.
27. Mark Ingram: Wrote extensively about him and his prospects for 2020. Father time is undefeated, but Ingram is the likely lead back on the league’s best rushing offense. J.K. Dobbins looms, but without a full offseason the Ravens might simply lean on ol’ reliable instead of counting on a rookie.
28. David Montgomery: Nothing about his rookie year suggested anything above average. You’re counting on a year two leap and a low receiving ceiling with the continued presence of Tarik Cohen.
29. Raheem Mostert: Last year’s RB26 is a little too reliable on touchdowns (1 touchdown every 15 touches) and didn’t even start either half of the Super Bowl. Still usable as the likely touch leader in a Kyle Shanahan backfield.
30. Ronald Jones: As polarizing a player as there is, but you don’t have to be good to be fantasy relevant on a strong Tom Brady offense. Just ask Stevan Ridley or LeGarrette Blount.
31. J.K. Dobbins: The heir apparent to Mark Ingram, he may not need 15 touches to make an impact. That’s a good thing, because if Ingram is healthy he may not ever see 15 touches.
Fantasy RB Tier 7 – Second Fiddles and Receiving Specialists
Most of these players lack any resemblance of a ceiling without an injury, but are usable as low-end flexes, bye-week RB2s or Zero-RB RB2s. They are either pass-catching specialists with little rushing production or are the likely “silver medalist” in their committees.
32. Antonio Gibson: A human highlight reel in college who was likely underutilized, it’s unlikely he goes from seeing 77 touches in his college career to being every-down workhorse behind Adrian Peterson and Peyton Barber. But even 8-10 touches per game might be all he needs to force his way into the box score and onto the field even more.
33. James White: Beat reporters speculate he could be in for a “monster year” considering how Cam Newton used Christian McCaffrey’s skill set. We’ll believe it when we see it, but White has always been a great role player and is possibly their 2nd best skill position player outside of Edelman.
34. Matt Breida: We always wondered what he can do with a lead role. After being more of a “between the 20s” back in San Francisco, he might be getting his chance in Miami’s ascending offense.
35. Jordan Howard: Will likely be a touchdown or bust option, but beat writers suggest a significant role regardless.
36. Tarik Cohen: Had maybe the least helpful 79-catch RB season in fantasy history. 2018 (170 touches, 1,169 total yards, 8 TDs) will likely go down as his career year. Still has a guaranteed passing-down role.
37. Kerryon Johnson: Detroit drafted D’Andre Swift as their future in the backfield. Johnson was seemingly a persona non grata even before he was hurt last year, but could be undervalued as the young “veteran” in a great offense. Swift is not guaranteed the starting role.
38. Phillip Lindsay: Last year’s RB20 has been seemingly usurped by Melvin Gordon. But there’s a non-zero chance Lindsay is a poor man’s 2019 Austin Ekeler to an overrated Melvin Gordon and force his way into the lead back role like he did as a rookie.
39. Darrell Henderson: The most efficient RB in college football history had a seemingly lost rookie season, but his price is baked into that. A likely value at his ADP could be the most valuable piece of the Rams’ 2020 backfield.
Fantasy RB Tier 8 – Bye-Week Dart Throws and Pure Handcuffs
This running back tier consists of RB4s who either have a defined early-season role or are strict backups that have league-winning potential if their starter were to go down. These should be the worst running backs that you have on your roster.
40. Ke’Shawn Vaughn: There was some buzz about him being “Tom Brady’s RB” when he was drafted, but he’s not a standout prospect and the signing of Lesean McCoy puts a damper on his rookie year outlook. Don’t draft him with high hopes.
41. Sony Michel: It’s not exactly a positive sign when you have 247 carries (10th in the NFL), play 16 games, and finish as the RB31 – I’m sure the Pats don’t regret drafting him over Lamar Jackson at all. Cam Newton may take some goal-line TDs, Damien Harris looms, Lamar Miller has been signed, and James White monopolizes passing downs. Michel is not even fully healthy. We wouldn’t blame you if he was entirely off your draft board.
42. Latavius Murray: He showed he’s still one of the better backups in the league, scoring 32 and 36.7 fantasy points respectively in the two games Kamara missed last year. He handled at least 21 carries in both contests – Kamara has yet to have 20 carries in a game in his entire career. His RB29 finish in 2019 means he is more than just a handcuff, but not much more.
43. Tevin Coleman: We forget he started both halves of the Super Bowl, but was outplayed at every turn by both Breida and Mostert last year. The nominal starter with a small amount of standalone value and very little upside.
44. Alexander Mattison: We didn’t get to see a preview of what Mattison could do because he missed the same games Dalvin Cook did (remember Mike Boone mania?), but if he’s even slightly-above average he’s a plug-n-play starter if Cook – who has never played a full season in the NFL – were to go down again.
45. Tony Pollard: Arguably the most exciting handcuff to own, Pollard has flashed elite potential whenever Zeke has been off the field (5.3 YPC and 20 targets). However, keep in mind that Elliott has played 31/32 games the past two seasons. He and Mattison define “true handcuff”.
46. Zack Moss: Could be a poor man’s Mike Tolbert as a passing down and goal-line specialist, but that’s his ceiling in year one. Not an elite prospect by any stretch, and is entrenched behind Devin Singletary and Josh Allen for rushing significance on the Bills.
47. Boston Scott: Was rather brilliant down the stretch when the Eagles needed him (4.6 YPC, 4 TDs and 25 catches in Weeks 14-17), and could become an RB2 if Miles Sanders were to go down.
48. Marlon Mack: Wasn’t bad, but wasn’t a league-winner in the most ideal situation possible (RB25 in fantasy points per game). Never caught many passes, and now has to battle one of the best running back prospects of our generation for playing time. Pass.
49. Duke Johnson: By now, we know he’ll never be a lead back. Never came close to living up to his 6th round ADP post-Lamar Miller injury. He couldn’t overcome Carlos Hyde, and he certainly won’t overcome even a 75% David Johnson. Even if Johnson were to go down, we know he won’t carry the mail in Houston.
50. Chase Edmonds: Was downright good last year, and made Cardinals fans forget David Johnson for an afternoon when he went for 126 yards and 3 scores. However, was soon Wally Pipp’d by Kenyan Drake. Probably the third-best pure handcuff in fantasy.