Thursday, August 27, 2020

Fantasy Football Half-PPR RB Rankings 2020

Fresh off his dominant 2019 season, the Carolina Panthers gave running back Christian McCaffrey a huge raise during an era where most teams shy away from paying running backs big money.

That said, McCaffrey is almost like an extra receiver on the field.

Since entering the league in 2017, only two players (regardless of position) have more receptions than McCaffrey (303): Michael Thomas (378) and DeAndre Hopkins (315). McCaffrey is tied with Keenan Allen (303) for third during that span.

Only three running backs are within 100 catches of McCaffrey during that three-year span: Alvin Kamara (243), James White (215) and Tarik Cohen (203).

In fact, only 15 running backs have more receptions in those three years combined than McCaffrey had last year (career-high 116).

The versatile back will be the unquestioned top pick in nearly all fantasy drafts this summer as he enters his age-24 season. Given how well things went last season for CMC, however, it would be reasonable to expect a step back in 2020 even though CMC has outdone himself each year.

Not only did McCaffrey score more fantasy points than all other running backs, it wasn’t even close. Based on a half-PPR scoring format, McCaffrey scored 413.2 fantasy points (25.8 per game), which was 42.3% more than fantasy’s RB2 (Aaron Jones, 290.3, 18.1/G).

If Saquon Barkley can stay healthy in his third NFL season, the gap between RB1 and RB2 is unlikely to be as great in 2020 as it was in 2019.

With that said, here are my fantasy football running back rankings heading into 2020:

1. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

Almost never coming off the field, McCaffrey joined Roger Craig (1985) and Marshall Faulk (1999) as one of only three backs to record 1,000/1,000 seasons in NFL history. The do-it-all back led the league in touches (403), yards from scrimmage (2,392) and touchdowns (19). The gap between him and the RB2 (Aaron Jones) was 122.9 fantasy points (half-PPR), or larger than the gap (122.2) between Jones (RB2) and Devonta Freeman (RB21). Another season of 400-plus touches seems unlikely, but his prolific work in the passing game gives him as high of a floor and ceiling as any back in the league.

2. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

Missing a few games early in the season, Barkley closed a relatively disappointing season with some positive momentum -- 393 rushing yards, 146 receiving yards and five touchdowns in his final three games. The most-talented back in the league, Barkley will run behind an improved offensive line in 2020 (although Nate Solder has opted out) and has a legitimate shot to challenge Christian McCaffrey for the top spot in fantasy production.

3. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

A little less involved as a receiver in 2019 (54/420/2) than 2018 (77/567/3), Elliott has exceeded 300 carries every year except for his 10-game 2017 season and he's led the NFL in rushing yards per game in three of four seasons. Guaranteed for a massive workload behind one of the league's top offensive lines and in one of the league's most prolific offenses, Elliott is a slam-dunk top-three pick in 2020.

4. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

Injury forced him to miss a couple of games in the middle of the season and limited his effectiveness down the stretch, but Kamara still finished as fantasy's RB9 on a per-game basis in 2019. One of the league's most talented receivers out of the backfield, Kamara has exactly 81 catches in each of his three seasons, but he averaged a career-high 5.8 receptions per game last year. Kamara, who scored a touchdown per every 15.35 touches in his first two NFL seasons, could be the benefactor of some positive touchdown regression as that number plummeted to one score per every 42 touches in 2019.

5. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

Through three NFL seasons, Cook has played only 29 games but he had his healthiest campaign (14 games) in 2019, which was by far his most productive as well. The centerpiece of a run-first offense, Cook has averaged 4.6 yards per carry and 8.8 yards per reception over his career and only Christian McCaffrey averaged more fantasy points per game (half-PPR) than Cook (19.0) in 2019.

6. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

While not much of a factor in the passing game, Henry gets force-fed the ball in Tennessee's run-first (and run-second) offense. Counting three playoff games, Henry rushed for 1,986 yards and 18 touchdowns over 18 games in 2019. From Week 10 on, the 250-pound bruising back eclipsed the 100-yard mark in seven of nine games. Perhaps a bit of a reach at the end of Round 1, the Titans drafted a 350-pound, road-grading right tackle (Isaiah Wilson) to fill the void of Jack Conklin's free-agent departure.

7. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals

One of just three backs with 275-plus touches in each of the past two seasons, Mixon started slowly last year but finished strong -- RB4 over final eight weeks with 177/817/5 (4.62 YPC) rushing and 16/177 (11.06 Y/R) receiving. Both the offense overall and the offensive line should be better in 2020, which should help to carry over his second-half momentum into 2020.

8. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs

Perhaps a bit of a surprise for some as the first running back off the board, Edwards-Helaire has drawn comparisons to (a better version of) Brian Westbrook (by head coach Andy Reid) and lands in an ideal long-term spot for his fantasy value. With Damien Williams opting out of the 2020 season, it boosts CEH's short-term (i.e., 2020) outlook and catapults him into the (upper?) RB1 range. It wasn't that long ago that fantasy owners saw what a prominently-featured rookie running back (Kareem Hunt, RB3, 2017) could do in an Reid-led offense.

9. Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles

Doug Pederson may favor a committee approach at running back, but Sanders -- 4.6 YPC and 10.2 Y/R as a rookie -- clearly has lead-back talent. After handling just 10.6 touches per game over the first half of the season, Sanders was fed 18 touches per game in the final eight with Jordan Howard missing most of the second half of the season. Although Sanders suffering a week-to-week lower-body injury, a source told ESPN's Tim McManus that Sanders will be "ready to play" Week 1.

10. Kenyan Drake, Arizona Cardinals

Drake's midseason trade to Arizona erased fantasy owner's frustrations over his usage as most felt that he was under-utilized during his time in Miami. With virtually no time to prepare, Drake rattled off 162 scrimmage yards and a touchdown in his Arizona debut and was one of the most productive backs in the second half of the season. From Week 9 (his debut with the Cardinals) to Week 17, Drake was fantasy's RB4 behind CMC, Derrick Henry and Ezekiel Elliott.

11. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers

Missing four games apiece in his first two seasons, Jones played a full 16-game slate and delivered for fantasy owners as only Christian McCaffrey scored more fantasy points at the position in 2019. While Jamaal Williams remained involved, Jones racked up 1,558 scrimmage yards and scored a whopping 19 total touchdowns. Instead of drafting help for Aaron Rodgers and the passing offense, the Packers invested a high pick (second-rounder) in a 247-pound running back that will likely steal a few (and especially valuable goal-line) carries from Jones.

12. Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers

Melvin Gordon returned to the field in Week 5, but Ekeler was ultra-productive -- 220 rushing yards, 270 receiving yards, 24 receptions and six touchdowns -- in the first quarter of the season without him and finished the year as fantasy's RB6. Even if Ekeler does not see a significant bump in overall workload from last year's 224 touches, only Christian McCaffrey (142) was targeted more than Ekeler (108) among running backs last season.

13. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns

Finishing 2019 as fantasy's RB7, Chubb (1,494 yards) trailed only Derrick Henry (1,540) in rushing last season. Meanwhile, the offensive line upgrades and a more run-centric offense bode well for Chubb to challenge for the rushing title in 2020. That said, Chubb's role as a receiver was greatly diminished once Kareem Hunt returned from his eight-game suspension. The 24-year-old back had 25 catches on 32 targets with Hunt suspended; only 11 catches on 17 targets over the final eight games with Hunt.

14. Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks

Carson (hip) is expected to be ready for Week 1. Playing 15 games last season, Carson handled a career-high 315 touches for 1,496 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns.

15. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders

Jacobs had double-digit carries every week he was active as a rookie and ranked among the top 10 players in touches per game (20.15) in 2019. That said, Jacobs had more than three targets only once last season. While Jacobs has a goal to catch "at least 60 balls, the team re-signed Jalen Richard (36 catches on 43 targets in 2019) and drafted the hybrid/ex-receiver Lynn Bowden as a running back.

16. Todd Gurley, Atlanta Falcons

Racking up 3,924 scrimmage yards and scoring 40 touchdowns the previous two years combined, Gurley barely exceeded the 1,000-yard rushing mark (1,064 YFS) in his age-25 season. Obvious durability concerns persist about Gurley's arthritic knee, but he enters 2020 as the clear lead back in Atlanta's potent offense. In terms of workload for Gurley, OC Dirk Koetter told ESPN that "I think a minimum of 15 touches and a high of [25]."

17. Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars

While he only scored three touchdowns in 2019, Fournette ranked third in the NFL in touches (341) and converted his 100 targets into 76 catches for 522 yards. Despite the lack of touchdowns, he was the only player in the league to get 100% of his team's carries inside the five.

18. Le'Veon Bell, New York Jets

Running behind one of the league's worst offensive lines in 2019, Bell rushed for 52.6 yards per game and averaged 3.2 yards per carry, both of which were career lows. Bell's 311 touches were eighth-most last season, but Bell ranked 35th (4.02) in yards per touch among the 38 running backs that amassed 140-plus touches last season. Improved efficiency is expected from Bell as the Jets improved their offensive line and Adam Gase has praised Bell for being in "phenomenal shape," although adding the ageless Frank Gore could lead to a year-over-year dip in touches for Bell.

19. David Johnson, Houston Texans

Making his tour around the NFL, Carlos Hyde eclipsed the 1,000-yard milestone in his lone season (2019) in Houston and finished as fantasy's RB27 (half-PPR). As bad as David Johnson was in Arizona, it's reasonable to expect him to outproduce Hyde, especially given Bill O'Brien's propensity to feed his lead back a healthy workload.

20. James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers

Durability is an obvious concern as Conner played in only 10 games, several of which he exited early, in 2019 and he missed three games with a high-ankle sprain towards the end of 2018. While the team drafted Anthony McFarland in the fourth round, Conner is still the team's No. 1 back. If he can stay healthy, he should outperform his current ADP.

Fantasy Football PPR RB Rankings (Top 70)

More scoring formats: