Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 40 Running Backs

Photo: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back for year two of The Draft Network’s preseason fantasy football rankings. The following is some quick background on how these rankings were determined. 

More than 40 hours of research went into the ranking process. It started by coming up with custom stat projections for more than 200 NFL players. From there I adjusted the order you’ll see below based on upside, injury risk, likelihood of reaching the projected total, etc. It’s important to keep in mind that the rankings are not simply in descending order of projected fantasy points. Finally, I placed each RB into a tier.

All of my rankings reflect the order in which I would take players if I were drafting today in a 12-team PPR league with ESPN scoring and no bonuses. These rankings will be updated throughout the offseason, so be sure to check in with The Draft Network often to gain an edge on your league-mates.

If you have any specific questions or want to know more about what I think of certain players, hit me up on Twitter (@JaimeEisner). I’d be happy to chat with you! Also, tune in to the TDN Fantasy Podcast for in-depth audio breakdowns of these rankings and all the latest fantasy football news. 

For access to RB rankings 41-80 and stat projections, please click here and become a TDN Premium member.

Other rankings: QB | WR TE


TIER 1


1. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

2. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

3. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

4. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys 

The crème de la crème of the running back group is the best fantasy football has to offer overall. These are the top four running backs and should be the top four players off the board in all PPR fantasy drafts. 

McCaffrey probably deserves his own tier, but in an effort to avoid being pretentious he joins the other top backs at the top of tier one. He’s coming off the second-best fantasy season of all-time in total points and the fifth-best season on a per-game basis. Oh, and his 2018 season ranks as the 26th-best fantasy season of all time. Yeah, he’s the clear, no-doubt No. 1 overall player.

Barkley was hobbled at times last season, but still managed to average nearly 19 fantasy points per game. He’s healthy now and will be a major focal point of the Giants’ offense. Kamara is due for significant positive touchdown regression this season. He’ll be his usual dynamic self with double-digit touchdowns in 2020. Elliott is as safe as they come at the position. Here’s how he’s finished among all running backs on a per-game basis since entering the league in 2016: 3rd, 3rd, 7th, 5th. 


TIER 2


5. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers

6. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

7. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

8. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals

9. Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers

This tier features a wider range of backs. These five players are going anywhere between picks 5-17. If you’re picking in the back half of the first round, these are the players you’ll be choosing from, along with the top tier of wide receivers. 

The Packers offense revolves around three people: Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, and Jones. Given the fact that Green Bay’s biggest offensive addition this offseason was wide receiver Devin Funchess, Jones will continue to have a huge role both rushing and receiving. Cook would’ve been at the bottom of tier one if not for his potential hold out. Injury history is also a concern, but fantasy managers should be getting top-five RB value from Cook when he plays.

Henry is an absolute beast but is hindered slightly by his lack of pass-catching. Fantasy managers hope he’s great down the stretch for a third straight season since Henry has won more than a few leagues for folks over the last two years. 

Mixon will benefit from an overall better Bengals offense in 2020. He might even be used more as a receiver—as he should’ve been all along. Ekeler is now the man in Los Angeles following the departure of Melvin Gordon. If he stays healthy with an expanded workload, he’ll be a true RB1. 


TIER 3


10. Kenyan Drake, Arizona Cardinals

11. Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles

12. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders

13. Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars

14. Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets

15. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns

16. Todd Gurley, Atlanta Falcons

This is a controversial grouping because of its size and risk factors. 

Drake is assuming the role of full-time starter for the first time in his career. He was sensational in an eight-game stretch with Arizona last season, but what will he do as a follow up? Like Drake, Sanders’ insanely high potential was also on display late in the season (with Jordan Howard injured). The Eagles will lean on him heavily as a rusher and receiver as they elected not to sign a veteran running back. The Raiders will do the same with Jacobs, who, if he can catch the ball a little more often, can be a top-10 RB now that his shoulder is healthy. 

The controversy starts with these next three players. Fournette has a fairly extensive injury history and had touchdown-scoring problems last season, but he still finished as the RB6 in total points and the RB9 on a points-per-game basis. He could repeat that performance this season with no competition in the backfield. Bell’s first season in New York wasn’t anything special, but I’m willing to bet on a bit of a bounce back. Chubb may lead the league in carries this season, but his lack of pass-catching—especially once Kareem Hunt got on the field—lowers his potential upside. 

You’ve likely already made up your mind one way or another on Gurley. When healthy and on the field, he’s the lead back of a strong offense with a nose for the end zone. However, he’s a major injury risk with significant bust potential. 


TIER 4


17. Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks

18. James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers

19. Melvin Gordon, Denver Broncos

20. Mark Ingram II, Baltimore Ravens

This talented but risky tier has the upside of RB1 production with more than a few red flags. Carson gets plenty of work, but is recovering from a hip injury and had a bad case of fumblitis last season. Expecting a full season from Conner seems foolish. Gordon doesn’t have quite the same injury risk, but he’ll be splitting time with another quality RB, Phillip Lindsay. Ingram leads a very crowded backfield and significant touchdown regression is expected. All of these back could outperform their ADP, but buyer beware. 


TIER 5


21. Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns

22. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs

23. Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears

24. David Johnson, Houston Texans

This is the PPR tier, with a quartet of players who benefit greatly from catching the football. Hunt returned from suspension last season and assimilated quite well into the Browns’ offense. He’ll be splitting time with Chubb, but both backs could be on the field at the same time and Hunt will get the vast majority of the catches out of the backfield. Rookie Edwards-Helaire will have a significant role on a great Kansas City offense but isn’t the starter (yet). Tempering expectations is important—think LeSean McCoy’s rookie season under Andy Reid as opposed to Hunt’s.

Cohen feels like a great fit with new Bears quarterback Nick Foles and is coming off a career-high 104 targets. He should see a similar target share in 2020. Johnson is a former top-five fantasy pick that’ll have to stay healthy and learn a new offense. He should have a featured role with the Texans if healthy and motivated. 


TIER 6


25. Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers

26. Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts

27. David Montgomery, Chicago Bears

28. Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills

29. D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions

30. Matt Breida, Miami Dolphins

31. James White, New England Patriots

32. Ronald Jones II, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Mostert leads the way for the top flex options in this tier. With Breida out of the picture, Mostert has a path to more playing time. The backfield in San Francisco is still fairly crowded, but on a per-touch basis, Mostert has been sensational. Taylor is a semi-risky pick here with Marlon Mack still on the roster, but he’s a do-everything back behind one of the best offensive lines in football.

Montgomery and Singletary enter their sophomore seasons with promise and one other back looking to steal their thunder. They’re both starters, but their upside is capped. Swift might not begin the year as Detroit’s starter, but given his pedigree and Kerryon Johnson’s injury history, he’s likely to end the year as such. 

Breida gives Ryan Fitzpatrick (and maybe Tua Tagovailoa) a true pass-catching, third-down back. He has blazing speed and will be on the field a lot as the Dolphins look to throw to come back in games. White can be the same kind of safety blanket for Jarrett Stidham that he was for Tom Brady, we just don’t know much about the Patriots’ passing game right now. Jones will be Tampa Bay’s starter in Week 1, but it’ll be up to him to show the coaching staff enough to continue in that role and hold off rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn. 


TIER 7


33. Damien Williams, Kansas City Chiefs

34. Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams

35. Sony Michel, New England Patriots

36. Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings

This tier is extremely fascinating. Williams is getting no love after the drafting of Edwards-Helaire, but was the only Chiefs RB trusted with 14 or more touches in a game last season—plus, there’s an argument to be made he deserved to be Super Bowl MVP. Akers has a chance to earn a big role on a team with no true starter following the release of Gurley.

Michel is a complete wild card. He could get a lot more work in a more ball-control offense, or he could continue to struggle on a per-carry basis and never reach his full potential. He’s also an injury risk. Mattison got nearly 25% of Minnesota’s carries in games Cook was active in last season. Given Cook’s holdout and injury history, Mattison could be a steal in fantasy drafts.


TIER 8


37. Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos

38. Derrius Guice, Washington Redskins

39. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

40. Duke Johnson, Houston Texans

Lindsay, through no fault of his own, is no longer the starter in Denver. The Broncos figure to run a lot and can sustain two top-40 backs, but he’s now only a flex play as long as Gordon is on the field. Guice’s flashes are as bright as can be, but he has to stay healthy. Who knows how many games you’ll get out of him or how he’ll be used given that injury history and the very capable Adrian Peterson also on the Washington roster.

Vaughn, if he finds a third-down role, could prove to be sneaky valuable this season. Brady has never been afraid to get his running backs involved in the receiving game. That role doesn’t really fit Jones, so Vaughn only needs to beat out Dare Ogunbowale. Johnson will have a role in Houston’s offense, but with another pass-catching D. Johnson on the roster, how big will it be?

For access to RB rankings 41-80 and stat projections, please click here and become a TDN Premium member.

Written By:

Jaime Eisner

Managing Editor

Managing Editor of The Draft Network. He’s a former editor for Sports Illustrated, FanRag Sports and Arizona Sports. He’s the co-host of the TDN Fantasy Podcast and has an extensive background covering fantasy sports and sports betting.

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