This article is about a 12-minute read.
Today's topic is simple:
If you could know the outcome of any single NFL backfield in 2020, which would you select?
Why would this backfield be the most beneficial?
My pick is the New England Patriots.
Obviously, we'd know what to expect from their stable of backs, each of whom have questions this season:
- Does James White continue to be a startable fantasy back in PPR leagues?
- Can Sony Michel be the primary rusher?
- Does Damien Harris get significant action this season?
- Do we get anything out of Rex Burkhead?
This backfield could produce multiple starting running backs in almost any scoring system. Or they could all be duds.
And knowing the entire outcome of the 2020 backfield will tell us which running back to start each week. Being able to predict how Bill Belichick will use his running back each week would be priceless information.
New England is a good one, Clayton, because there are several options and question marks heading into the season. The one I'd like to know is Baltimore.
The Ravens running backs alone rushed for 1,951 yards last year - 3rd most in the NFL. Excluding Lamar Jackson, that squad performed well, led mostly by Mark Ingram II who totaled 1,018 yards himself, followed by Gus Edwards' 711 yards and Justice Hill's 225 yards.
How will 2020 unfold?
Mark Ingram II is still the incumbent top back. Gus Edwards and Justice Hill also remain in place, but here comes rookie J.K. Dobbins, a second-round pick with high longterm expectations. That's a pretty formidable rushing output without including Lamar Jackson!
It feels confident to suggest that Baltimore will be among the top rushing teams in the league this year, but who will be the fantasy back to own? How soon will Dobbins make a big enough impact to become a fantasy threat or even better, a consistent threat?
Is a running back trade a possibility?
Baltimore loves to strengthen their team by trading away players in an area of strength. We saw that this year with tight end Hayden Hurst and to a lesser extent defensive end Chris Wormley. Could they trade Gus Edwards or Justice Hill for a future pick or player in an area of need? That's possible, but perhaps the COVID backdrop might decrease the chances? There is a lot of positivity with the Ravens this year, but several questions surrounding which players will be the ones who execute the best and the most.
I'll also take the Baltimore Ravens. The NFL could not stop the Ravens offense and they were absolute bullies on the ground. The fact that Lamar Jackson rarely got touched on outside runs unless we opted to stay in bounds after chunk gains, is an amazing part of Baltimore's success.
Opponents have to play defense against 11 men, which is not the case most of the time, and this opens up massive creases for the running back. Even with Marshal Yanda retiring, the Ravens have a good line.
If I could know for sure that Mark Ingram II would play the entire season as the full-time starter or if and when J.K. Dobbins would take over as the lead back, this would be of great value to me as a fantasy player. I could either take one--or both of these options with confidence or avoid them completely.
I personally love this question, as it can be dissected in so many ways. My top three ways to frame it:
- If you knew a lead back was going to get hurt, which back would you want next?
- If you foresee a team as having a committee approach, which one player is going to outperform his current ADP and projections the most?
- What back will come out of nowhere and lead a fantasy team to glory this year?
Collapsing those three ideas into just one backfield is tricky. For example, if I said "Carolina" because I had the 1.01 and I wanted to ensure that Christian McCaffrey is either healthy and worth that pick, or who would take over if he has an unfortunate season-ending injury in Week 3, that would be great to know. Forecasting injuries is always hard, and quite frankly I don't expect a lead tailback to be that valuable in Carolina if he gets hurt - but if I did I would just grab my best guess for a handcuff late and move on.
My pick for this answer would have to be from a backfield that has generally lower ADP (beyond the Top 20-24 backs or so) where the situation right now is viewed as an either-or situation. That boils the list down to eight teams for me:
- Chicago - David Montgomery (ADP RB25) and Tarik Cohen (35)
- Tampa Bay - Ronald Jones II (30) and Ke'Shawn Vaughn (36)
- New England - James White (32) and Sony Michel (37)
- Miami - Jordan Howard (34) and Matt Breida (40)
- Cleveland - Nick Chubb (11) and Kareem Hunt (29)
- Baltimore - Mark Ingram II (24) and J.K. Dobbins (33)
- Indianapolis - Jonathan Taylor (23) and Marlon Mack (38)
- Denver - Melvin Gordon III (20) and Phillip Lindsay (39)
That's a bit of a lengthy list, so to whittle it down, the staff has done a great job of discussing Detroit, Miami, Indianapolis, and Tampa Bay, so I don't feel like I need to have a lot more insight for those backfields. I think if Gordon misses time in Denver, we know how Lindsay and Royce Freeman would likely split the workload as well. Kareem Hunt's the clear handcuff for Nick Chubb for the Browns, so no real insight to gain there. Not much is expected for the Bears even if everyone remains healthy and in their roles, so I don't think I need to waste that "future vision" in Chicago. That leaves New England and Baltimore - and while I appreciate what Jeff and Matt said, for me, it is the Ravens.
Baltimore was the lead leading run team last season by a mile (almost literally), rushing for over 3,200 yards to set a single-season record. Yes, Lamar Jackson was a big part of that, but the Ravens ran far more than anyone else and had Mark Ingram II as a Top 10 fantasy back last season. The addition of rookie J.K. Dobbins muddles the outlook here, so knowing which player to target in the first eight rounds of your draft (Ingram projects as a 4th/5th round selection, while Dobbins is roughly Round 7) would be of immense help.
We just spent enough words to create an article that is a 31-minute read wondering if Clyde Edwards-Helaire was worth a first-round fantasy pick. Eight staffers said yes, while seven said no. But if we knew how Kansas City's backfield would work out, we'd definitively know the answer. So I'll choose Kansas City here because if I knew that Edwards-Helaire would get an elite RB1 workload, he'd be a lock to draft as an elite RB1.
Baltimore was my first selection also, but that path has been well-traveled in this thread already. How about Houston? The Texans have produced a top-10 rushing offense in four out of Bill O'Brien's six seasons as head coach. Carlos Hyde was just able to resurrect his career in Houston after it appeared he was ready to wash out of the league. It’s all but certain their running game will be a valuable one in fantasy.
The questions in this backfield I would love some answers to:
- Is O'Brien going to give David Johnson nothing but the halfback dives Hyde leaves behind? If so, we've seen this show before when Mike McCoy was the Cardinals offensive coordinator in 2018. The results weren't pretty for Johnson.
- Is O'Brien going to play to Johnson's strengths and line him up as a receiver frequently? If so, Johnson's mid-to-late-third round ADP is likely a bargain.
- Let's assume O'Brien is smart enough to use Johnson in ways that maximize his effectiveness. How much does Johnson have left physically? He looked painfully slow when we last saw him on the field, but how much of that was injury-related? Before getting hurt last year, Johnson was the RB6 in PPR leagues through six weeks.
- How much does Duke Johnson Jr factor in if David Johnson is healthy? Duke received 62 targets last season, and O'Brien spent a third-round pick to acquire him just last year.
- If David Johnson has truly lost it, are we missing the boat on Duke Johnson Jr as a potential league-winner?
I'd like to think if Hyde can command 245 touches in this offense last year, David Johnson has the potential to be one of a handful of running backs who can eclipse 300 in 2020. But that was a lot of question marks.
Everyone has crushed this discussion from all the relevant angles, so at the risk of sounding redundant, I'll jump on the Ravens bandwagon. While many of the situations mentioned would be helpful, for the most part, they're not fantasy dependent. For example, there's an established ADP hierarchy and you can opt to take the favorite, wait for the backup, or pass. But the Ravens situation is entirely different. Both Mark Ingram II and J.K. Dobbins are being drafted in fantasy starter territory, and that's an important consideration because if it's a true 2/3/4 running back committee, both could be disappointing at ADP particularly factoring in Lamar Jackson's rushing totals. But, if we had perfect knowledge that Ingram would be given another year as the lead dog, his ADP is a round or two discounted. And even better, if we knew Dobbins was going to have the shot to render Ingram irrelevant, he's a league winner at his cost.
I agree with Jason that this has been an excellent discussion.
I like the way Jeff Pasquino approached the topic by looking for the running back situations later on and I love Phil bringing up Houston.
I’m more curious about the teams expected to run the ball well, but have the first running back going in rounds two, three and four like David Johnson.
Arizona, Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Denver, Green Bay, Houston, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Seattle are the ten teams I am looking at.
The one that fascinates me most is Arizona and in particular Kenyan Drake. After years of being messed around in Miami, he became a fantasy championship winner last year once traded to the Cardinals. 46 carries for 303 rushing yards and six touchdowns combined in weeks 15 and 16 were highly welcome for anyone lucky enough to have him. His current draft price is around the end of the first to the middle of the second round. That gives him a little wiggle room to exceed that price, but a lot of downside is also possible. With Kyler Murray likely to frighten opposing defenses and DeAndre Hopkins added to frighten opposing pass defenses, the lead running back here is going to have the opportunity to be a beast. Chase Edmonds is a cheap handcuff to Drake and with Arizona leading the league last year in yards before contact per rushing attempt, the potential for this squad to be a top-five rushing team is evident.
With both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt drafted high, there's little chance that each outperforms ADP. Adding Kevin Stefanski should bring more touches for the backs if his stay in Minnesota is any indication.
When Hunt returned from suspension last year, he and Chubb scored almost identically in PPR leagues.
Both are great talents. We've forgotten how good Hunt was in KC and how Chubb's first two seasons put him in rare company.
In the pro-Chubb category, he should see positive regression as he - and the Browns - were horrible inside the five last year.
Questions I would like to know if peering into a crystal ball:
- Will the pie really be bigger under Stefanski?
- Will Hunt get enough carries and targets to be viable?
- Will Hunt be utilized as the third receiver as some speculate just to get him on the field more?
- Chubb needs a positive game script to reach his potential. Will the Browns be competitive enough for this to happen?
Outside of assuming an injury where a high-upside backup or 1B option vaults to fantasy stardom type of backfield, Those would be the most beneficial in my view - backups like Tony Pollard, Alexander Mattison, etc.
Excluding them and focusing on a more up-in-the-air backfield, the Lions is considered an ambiguous share for touches between Kerryon Johnson and D'Andre Swift. Johnson's health is a major aspect of this season. Both were top-50 NFL Draft selections and still on the first half of their prime production window for running backs age-wise.
Personally, I have invested from a dynasty player market share standpoint a much higher than average exposure in Antonio Gibson, AJ Dillon, Alexander Mattison, Cam Akers, Damien Harris, Ronald Jones II, and DeAndre Washington. All have RB1 potential for cross-sections of the 2020 season in a best-case but need varying degrees of 'help' on the depth chart to emerge. Akers and Jones have the most straightforward paths to emerge.
I would love to know how the San Francisco backfield will shake out this season.
I can envision a scenario where Raheem Mostert has a monster year and ends up being the most valuable running back drafted outside the first two rounds. We have seen Kyle Shanahan backs greatly outperform ADP numerous times. Alfred Morris came out of nowhere as an undrafted rookie to lead the league in rushing. Devonta Freeman was a mid-round pick who exploded in his second season. This offense was Top 5 last season in terms of total fantasy points but the production was spread out between a number of guys. If Mostert emerges as a true workhorse, he could be a league-winner.
It is also easy to envision a scenario where this is a 3-man RBBC between Mostert, Tevin Coleman, and Jerick McKinnon. I can imagine touches being spread fairly evenly and nobody having much fantasy value.
I don't think it is crazy to believe someone other than Mostert emerging as the guy. McKinnon brings a lot to the table as a receiver and is someone who Shanahan seems very intrigued by. He could be the late-round steal everyone wishes they took a shot on.
I would only be taking a wild guess predicting how this backfield will shake out, which is why it is my pick for this question.
All of the other responses would have been my knee-jerk reaction to the question. So, I'll go the contrarian route. I want to know how the Las Vegas backfield shakes out this season.
It's not a question of talent, but opportunity regarding Josh Jacobs and his usage in the passing game. Prior to the 2019 draft, a number of pieces were pointing to Jacobs' time with Julio Jones learning the intricacies of route running. The Raiders didn't do it often, but in the first month of the season, we could see flashes of the talent with a couple of long gains in Weeks 1 and 4. But we watched Darren Waller emerge, Hunter Renfrow become a larger part of the offense, and both Jalen Richard and Deandre Washington receiving similar volume.
Jacobs' projected volume and talent as a runner gives him a solid floor at his current cost, but I'd love to know how his targets will be impacted in 2020. Richard gets an extension and they draft Lynn Bowden Jr (with the running back designation). I think with more insight into how the entire committee will be used, I'd have more (or less) confidence in drafting Jacobs at his ADP.
Great picks so far from everyone, and I especially like the Cleveland, San Francisco, and Baltimore picks.
The one I'm not hearing that interests me a lot is Philadelphia. I think perhaps I'm more skeptical about what Doug Pederson is going to do with Miles Sanders than most. We've certainly heard some encouraging comments recently from coach Duce Staley, but with Pederson's track record I would love to know how many touches he plans on giving to Sanders. If I could be assured he would get 50+ more touches this season then it erases any doubts about him that I have. It isn't that I'm projecting him to be a huge disappointment, but the usage from the end of the season involving Boston Scott was troubling enough that I've had a hard time pulling the trigger on him where I need to in order to land him on any of my teams. Being able to bank the coachspeak from Staley would send Sanders through the roof for me. The Eagles are my pick.
I really like the mention of the Eagles, Andrew I would be very curious as to how much Taysom Hill 2.0, Jalen Hurts, is going to impact not only Miles Sanders but also Carson Wentz - so if we had a future view of how all the Eagles' tailbacks produce in 2020, that would strongly point towards how Hurd will factor in, along with how much Philadelphia will rely on throwing the ball for touchdowns. I would also love to know what the understudies for Miles Sanders produce, as it would not surprise me at all for the Eagles to get Carson Wentz off the field when not needed to keep him healthy, and the backfield stat line would also help there. Great call.