2020 NFL Draft Preview: Expert picks for top Fantasy running back, best sleepers, ideal landing spots


With the NFL Draft set to kick off Thursday night, the Fantasy football player pool is about to see a significant injection of talent. And, while the quarterbacks and wide receivers are garnering most of the headlines from the draftniks, Fantasy players know who has the best chance of making a Day 1 impact: 

Running backs. 

This year’s running back class isn’t short on talent, but our team of Fantasy analysts — Jamey Eisenberg, Dave Richard, Heath Cummings, and Ben Gretch — are actually in agreement on the top talent in the class. However, he isn’t the only potential difference-maker on the board, and where everyone ends up getting drafted will play a significant role in how they are valued for 2020 and beyond in Fantasy.

With the draft just days away, it’s time to really get into the Fantasy potential of this class. I put together a list of the biggest questions about the incoming rookie running backs, with Jamey, Dave, Heath, and Ben providing answers on their top players, favorite sleepers, and more — including which incumbent running backs might have the most to lose in the NFL Draft.

If you want to get to know each of the top running back prospects for 2020, we’ve profiled them all here:

The rookie running backs could play a sizable role in determining who wins Fantasy championships all over the world in 2020. Here’s what our experts say about the biggest questions about this group:

1. Who is your favorite running back in this class?

Jamey Eisenberg: Jonathan Taylor, but that could change depending on who goes to the best spot based on the NFL Draft. Taylor is the most explosive back in this class, and he could be a star in the right situation. Hopefully, he gets the chance to prove that in 2020.

Dave Richard: Jonathan Taylor is the closest to a complete package in the group, but I don’t think there’s a first-round talent in the class. Taylor has amazing breakaway speed with size to boot, and his receiving skills have potential. It’s hard for prospects to suddenly ditch their fumbling ways, and he had 18 of them in 41 games. 

Heath Cummings: Jonathan Taylor. And he would have been my favorite back from last year’s class too. With the right landing spot and opportunity, he could be a top-five back as soon as 2020.

Ben Gretch: Jonathan Taylor ran a 4.39 and showed off impressive athleticism at the Combine at 5 feet 10 inches, 226 pounds. That size/speed is often comped to Ezekiel Elliott — Taylor was faster at the same weight and two inches shorter, so think a thicker, faster version of Zeke. Taylor handled a massive workload at Wisconsin and held up well, but the major concerns are in the passing game with receiving and pass blocking, two concerns Elliott didn’t have. 

2. Who are your top-five backs from this class?

Jamey: Taylor, D’Andre Swift, J.K. Dobbins, Cam Akers and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The top three have the most potential, but I might be more excited about Akers and Edwards-Helaire. Akers had a terrible situation at Florida State and still thrived, and Edwards-Helaire could be a stellar PPR Fantasy option with the right team.

Dave: 

  1. Jonathan Taylor
  2. D’Andre Swift
  3. JK Dobbins
  4. Cam Akers
  5. Clyde Edwards-Helaire 

Heath: 

  1. Jonathan Taylor
  2. J.K. Dobbins
  3. D’Andre Swift
  4. Cam Akers
  5. Clyde Edwards-Helaire

Ben: Taylor, DeAndre Swift, J.K. Dobbins, Cam Akers and Clyde Edwards-Helaire

3. Who is your favorite sleeper running back from this class?

Jamey: I’ll go with Darrynton Evans from Appalachian State. He ran for 1,480 yards and finished third nationally in total touchdowns (24) last season, and I’m excited to see where he lands in the NFL Draft. Most likely, he’ll be depth on someone’s roster, but he could be a popular handcuff to target in seasonal leagues. 

Dave: I like Zack Moss’ potential to be an impactful running back as a rookie provided he gets the opportunity. He’s a physical runner who can break tackles and create yardage, reminding me of Devin Singletary when he came out (albeit Moss is a little older and with a lot more injury concerns). Moss’ long-term outlook is cloudy because an injury could always derail him, but if he finds playing time in a halfway-decent offense this year I would have no problem using him in Fantasy.  

Heath: Eno Benjamin. He had 3,300 total yards and 30 touchdowns his past two seasons at Arizona, and despite his size he held up to 335 touches in his sophomore season. He could do what many hoped Darwin Thompson would. 

Ben: AJ Dillon is a favorite of mine, and the irony is not lost on me given he’s physically a lot like Derrick Henry, a player whose workload I always take issue with for Fantasy. Both backs weighed in at 247 pounds, though Henry is 3 inches taller at 6-foot-3, meaning he may have built out that frame in recent years. Dillon’s 4.53 40 time was one-hundredth of a second faster than Henry’s 4.54, both of which make for elite speed scores at their sizes, and they have similar jump numbers indicating similar burst, as well. Dillon also had elite broken tackle stats at Boston College, per PFF. Even if Dillon’s receiving never materializes — and I’m not writing off that part of his game — this is a mid-round guy who could step right in and handle 200-plus carries if a team with a good receiving back (*cough* Chargers *cough*) wanted to make that happen. 

4. How many running backs from this class can you see becoming must-start Fantasy options?

Jamey: In 2020, it might just be three, and even then that might not happen right away, like Miles Sanders in 2019. But as we know, it could take a year for a few of these guys to get their chance. You might have to be patient, similar to what is potentially happening with Darrell Henderson this year with the Rams.

Dave: Right away? Maybe two or three. There aren’t many teams that have a need at running back. In time I think each of the five running backs I named plus another two or three (guys like Zack Moss, A.J. Dillon) will have starting opportunities.  

Heath: At any point in their career? As many as seven or eight have the ability in the right situation. As soon as 2020 I would be surprised if it’s more than four. There just aren’t that many jobs currently available, and I expect the shortened offseason to make it harder for rookies to take jobs from veterans.

Ben: That’s always dependent on situation, but based on talent alone I can see it for each of my top four, and possibly all five. I notably don’t see it for Zack Moss, and I’m concerned I’m missing something there.

5. What is your ideal pairing of running back and team in the draft? How high would you be willing to draft that ideal pairing?

Jamey: If Taylor goes to Tampa Bay then I would draft him no later than Round 4 in all formats. He should be able to beat out Ronald Jones and be the featured back for the Buccaneers.

Dave: Taylor in Tampa Bay. Any running back in that offense has a chance to be very good, even if they’re sharing to some degree with Ronald Jones. I’d consider Taylor starting in Round 4 in non-PPR, a round later in PPR. 

Heath: Jonathan Taylor to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He’d be worth a second round pick as long as he got a full training camp with the team and impressed the coaches the way I anticipate he will. 

Ben: For Taylor, my pick for back with the most upside, capital might matter as much as team fit. There’s been talk he could slip, and I’d really like to see him sneak into the back end of the first round or be the first back taken early in Round 2. The Chiefs are expected to trade out of the first round, and the Rams don’t have a first-round pick, but if either team wound up taking him by the middle of the second round, I’d be comfortable drafting him in Round 2 for redraft. 

6. Which incumbent running back has the most to lose in the draft?

Jamey: I think we could see a surprise like Tennessee drafting a running back to help Derrick Henry, who remains without a long-term contract. James Conner is likely to face competition from a rookie. And I would be shocked if Jones in Tampa Bay, Jordan Howard in Miami, Devin Singletary in Buffalo and Kerryon Johnson in Detroit don’t get competition from a rookie this year.

Dave: I think Kerryon Johnson’s in big trouble. Too many knee injuries and not enough good production combined with the Lions’ picks (four in the top 85) suggest he’s headed toward a split. At least James Conner’s team only has one pick in the top 100.

Heath: Ronald Jones and Jordan Howard are the most obvious, but Devin Singletary and Miles Sanders aren’t far behind. Singletary, specifically, I could see being a high-end No. 2 back if the Bills don’t take someone early, but I could also see him falling outside of my top-25 running backs if the Bills take someone like A.J. Dillon or Zack Moss.

Ben: There are a few, but I’ll note Austin Ekeler. Fantasy managers don’t want to see this, but why wouldn’t the Chargers replace Melvin Gordon with a reasonably high-profile early down back and keep Ekeler focused on his very well-suited passing-downs role? If that happens, Ekeler will still have a good touch mix, but without the sustained snap counts his advocates are hoping for, questions will start to creep in about how he can repeat his 92 receptions and ridiculous receiving efficiency, and a new quarterback doesn’t help those answers. I love Ekeler and hope he gets the extended run he deserves, and what the Chargers do in the Draft will be telling about their plans for him.

7. Which teams could you see drafting a starting running back? 

Jamey: Miami and Tampa Bay could definitely find a starter. And Jacksonville could as well if the team moves on from Leonard Fournette. But there aren’t many starting jobs out there right now, barring an injury before Week 1. 

Dave: Miami and Tampa Bay top the list. Their rookie could start for them in Week 1. Detroit, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Atlanta, Seattle, both Los Angeles teams, Jacksonville and Washington could take a running back to pair with their current starter and develop into their future starter. The worst spot is actually in Tennessee — Derrick Henry’s current backup is David Fluellen. They are for sure going to draft someone to not only back up Henry, but potentially take over for him after he plays out his franchise tender. 

Heath: The Buccaneers and Dolphins seem like the two most likely right now. The Rams and Chiefs are certainly possibilities. The Steelers and Seahawks are darkhorses we should take more seriously. And with recent rumors surrounding Leonard Fournette, we have to consider them as well.

Ben: Starting back is a relative term, and if you’re strict with the definition there are fewer options this year than in past seasons due to how many good, young backs there are around the league. To that definition, Miami, Tampa Bay, Kansas City and the Rams might be the only teams, unless the Jaguars do find a trade suitor for Fournette. The Steelers are another darkhorse given the buzz around them in the pre-draft process — I’m not sure Conner is as entrenched as the Fantasy community would like. 





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